Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Judging a book by what it doesn’t cover


In his encyclical Aeterni Patris, Pope Leo XIII called for a “restoration of Christian philosophy.” He was quite specific about what he had in mind:

[D]aily experience, and the judgment of the greatest men, and, to crown all, the voice of the Church, have favored the Scholastic philosophy.

Indeed, he was even more specific than that:

Among the Scholastic Doctors, the chief and master of all towers Thomas Aquinas

We exhort you, venerable brethren, in all earnestness to restore the golden wisdom of St. Thomas, and to spread it far and wide for the defense and beauty of the Catholic faith, for the good of society, and for the advantage of all the sciences… Let carefully selected teachers endeavor to implant the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas in the minds of students, and set forth clearly his solidity and excellence over others.  Let the universities already founded or to be founded by you illustrate and defend this doctrine, and use it for the refutation of prevailing errors.

Other popes have echoed the theme.  For example, Pius X, in Pascendi Dominici Gregis, wrote: “[L]et Professors remember that they cannot set St. Thomas aside, especially in metaphysical questions, without grave detriment.”

Before certain readers start hyperventilating, I should pause to note that my point is not to argue from papal authority for the superiority of Aquinas.  If you think Leo, Pius, et al. were wrong -- for example, if you think Scotus is a better guide to metaphysical questions, or if you think Scholasticism in general is wrongheaded, or if you couldn’t care less in the first place about what the popes have to say -- well, for present purposes none of that is either here or there.  My point is rather to explain how the term “Scholastic” came to have a certain connotation.  In the decades after Leo’s encyclical appeared, the Neo-Scholastic movement sought to implement his program.  One key feature of this movement was that its representatives tended to treat Thomism as normative for Scholastic thinking more generally.  Scotist and Suarezian positions were taken seriously and sometimes adopted, but the default position tended to be Thomistic.  Another key feature was that the Neo-Scholastics were keen to emphasize that Scholasticism is not a museum piece but a living tradition that offers a serious response to modern assumptions in philosophy.  Accordingly, the emphasis in Neo-Scholastic works was not on historical scholarship but rather on articulation of the structure of the Scholastic system and application to contemporary problems.

These tendencies by no means reflected a blind submission to papal authority.  The Neo-Scholastics had arguments for the view that Scholastic, and in particular Thomistic, positions were superior to those of the modern systems of thought (rationalist, empiricist, idealist, etc.) that had supplanted Scholasticism.  And they had arguments for the view that the departures from Thomism represented by writers like Scotus, Ockham, and Suarez were often harmful to the integrity of the Scholastic system, and inadvertently contributed to the dissolution of the Scholastic synthesis and rise of the modern systems.  A reasonable person can disagree with these views, but they represent a coherent and well thought out philosophical position.

It is one I happen to agree with, and my book Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction is very much written in the spirit of this approach.  It is not an exercise in antiquarianism.  It is not written for historians of philosophy, or for Latinists, or for those who are interested in the minutiae of intra-Scholastic debate over the centuries.  It is written for people interested in understanding the framework of Scholastic thinking about fundamental metaphysical questions, and how it relates to controversies in contemporary analytic philosophy.  So, if you are the sort of anal retentive academic historian of philosophy who thinks that (say) a definitive history of the early 14th century dispute over universals must be written before we can begin tentatively to think about gesturing towards a recovery of the point of view from which the question of contemporary application might someday be asked… well, my book is not for you. 

The book is also written from a decidedly Thomistic point of view.  I discuss the views of Scotus, Ockham, and Suarez where they disagree with Aquinas, because the reader should know where and why Scholastic metaphysicians differ with one another.  But the book is not about these intra-Scholastic disputes, and it does not attempt to settle them to the satisfaction of Scotists, Ockhamists, and Suarezians.  Rather, the book is about the dispute between, on the one hand, what I take to be the strongest version of Scholasticism, and on the other hand the various metaphysical views which prevail within modern philosophy, and within analytic philosophy in particular.

I am quite explicit about these aims of the book, and it is in light of those aims that the book should be judged.  Now, Michael Sullivan of the Scotist blog The Smithy (and, I think, a friend of this blog), has just posted the first in a series of posts reviewing my book.  He more or less acknowledges its specific aims, and assures us that “a book review ought to evaluate a book on the basis of its own goals, not our expectations for what a different sort of book might have been had the author cared to attempt it.”  Unfortunately, the then goes on to evaluate the book precisely on the basis of his expectations for what a different sort of book might have been had I cared to attempt it.

In particular, Sullivan is irritated that I do not have more to say about Scotus, Ockham, and Suarez, that I rely on English translations rather than Latin originals, and that I’m too beholden to relatively recent Neo-Scholastic works.  He develops his complaint at some length, though he has (so far, anyway) nothing to say about what is actually in the book, only about what is not in it.  Had I been writing a neutral historical account of all the various thinkers and arguments that have fallen under the label “Scholastic,” Sullivan’s complaints would have been reasonable.  But as Sullivan himself is well aware, that is not what I was trying to do.  And given the actual aims of the book, Sullivan’s complaints seem to me to be rather silly. 

Sullivan says that my book is not “scholarly.”  By that he means that it does not emphasize primary sources, does not cite works in the original languages, is not historically comprehensive, etc.  And that is indeed the kind of thing that characterizes a “scholarly” work of history, say.  But there is another sense in which a work might be “scholarly,” which is operative in works of philosophy that are not primarily concerned with history.  It has to do with knowing the current state of discussion, mastering the relevant literature, adhering to academic standards of argumentational rigor rather than aiming for a “pop” audience, etc.  I submit that my book, judged by its actual aims, is very much a scholarly one in that sense. 

That is a kind of scholarship I commend to Sullivan and other non-Thomist Scholastics.  Every so often at The Smithy one finds expressions of annoyance at the tendency to treat Aquinas as the Scholastic gold standard.  That’s understandable.  Scotus, Ockham, and Suarez were thinkers of genius and certainly deserve more attention than they get.

But here’s the thing.  Thomists have, for over a century and with renewed vigor in recent decades, been putting forward Scholastic arguments in the context of contemporary mainstream debates in metaphysics, natural theology, philosophy of mind, ethics, and other areas.  They have made it clear that these are arguments with contemporary relevance, not mere museum pieces.  Naturally, given that they are Thomists, their brand of Scholasticism has been Thomistic.  And naturally, they have been less concerned with history-of-philosophy spectacle-cleaning than with presenting an argument in its strongest possible form, regardless of whether this or that Scholastic presented it exactly that way.   If many people think of Aquinas and Thomism when they think of Scholasticism, that’s a big part of the reason. 

If Scotists and Suarezians really want non-Scholastics to take their own heroes as seriously as they take Aquinas, they need to do more of this sort of thing themselves.  They need to get out of the library stacks and into the debate.  They need to avoid getting so absorbed with doing “scholarship” that they forget about doing philosophy.  They need to worry less about the history of Scholasticism and more about the future of Scholasticism.  That would seem to be a more productive use of their time than complaining that Thomists haven’t been adequate publicists for Scotus and other non-Thomists. 

192 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting exchange. Thank you.

Jim S. said...

"Thomism is not a museum piece. No doubt, like other systems of medieval philosophy, indeed, philosophic systems of all ages, it must be studied historically. All the great philosophies whether of the Middle Ages or any other period have that in their substance which to an extent triumphs over time. But Thomism does so more completely than any other since it harmonizes and exceeds them all, in a synthesis which transcends all its components. It is relevant to every epoch. It answers modern problems, both theoretical and practical … it displays a power to fashion and emancipate the mind. We therefore look to Thomism at the present day to save: in the speculative order, intellectual values; in the practical order, so far as they can be saved by philosophy, human values.
"In short, we are concerned not with an archeological, but with a living Thomism. It is our duty to grasp the reality and the requirements of such a philosophy."
- Jacques Maritain, "A Preface to Metaphysics," first lecture.

Brian said...

Many moons ago, you said you were working on a book-length treatment of marriage and sexuality. Is that still in the works?

Daniel said...

A few thoughts:

I have only just received a copy of Scholastic Metaphysics and after a quick skim through can say I am thoroughly looking forward to giving it a more in-depth read soon. Aside from bringing elements of New Essentialist thought to the awareness of those outside the relatively narrow range of analytical philosophers the sections on Mereology and ontologies of Time bring classical metaphysics to the heart of modern debates where it truly needs to be. That said it may have been better titled Scholastic Metaphysics: an Analytical Introduction or even Contemporary Analytical Metaphysics: a Scholastic Introduction. I know Continental philosophy is at present largely rotten with Deleuze clones but it did furnish a marvel of material on Intentionality and other topics pre WWII which many scholastic thinkers still draw upon.

Whilst they did undoubtedly good work Maritian and his disciples were responsible for a plethora of crude caricatures of other medieval philosophers, dismissals which those like the proprietors of The Smithy are still fighting against to this day. Despite what might be called a popular disinterest in certain Catholic circles academic interest in Scotus just grows and grows.

This is not to come down on the side of Scotus against Thomas; it’s just there seems little reason why Thomists cannot at least countenance arguments and ideas from other scholastics if they do not imply too great a divergence from core AT metaphysics – say, Scotus’ Cosmological Argument or the proof from eternal truths for instance. There still seems an inveterate resistance to ideas Thomas himself wasn’t very interested in, which is precisely the reason the renewed interest in the Kalam Cosmological Argument and the Ontological Argument emerged from outside Catholic circles.

Scott W. said...

Unfortunately, the then goes on to evaluate the book precisely on the basis of his expectations for what a different sort of book might have been had I cared to attempt it.

Should read "...he then goes on..." but in any case, it sounds like he gave the classic Amazon.com panning which is as you say, judging a book by what it doesn't cover. I sometimes leave comments at such reviews that it is like saying The Beatles' Abbey Road stinks because it isn't a Bebop jazz album. Proper reviewing is a lost art.

Thomas M. Cothran said...

I took the criticism to be that the book is not so much a history of scholastic metaphysics as an elucidation of Thomist metaphysics, with reference to a few other scholastics.

It does seem that some of Sullivan's complaints may be valid. For example, is it really the case that Bonaventure is never cited?

It's fine to write a book that doesn't focus so much on what Thomas, Scotus, etc. meant to say in their own context. After Chenu, Gilson, and de Lubac, there is plenty of solid historical research available.

But it's also not surprising for a reviewer to complain that a book on scholastic metaphysics has only a very thin treatment of most of the important scholastics. That's a fair complaint.

Martin said...

Speaking of your new book, Prof Feser, I am now told by B&N that there was a delay and it will not ship on May 31st, and they don't actually know when it will.

All of this could be avoided if these little publishers could move out of the 17th Century and into the 21st, and provide effin electronic versions of books. How hard would that be? They surely already have an electronic version. They could probably just download some conversion software, convert it to epub, slap on some DRM, and done. No ongoing cost to themselves to print paper in a factory and have to physically ship it. They could do some work once, and get paid for it forever.

Ugh.

Scott said...

@Thomas M. Cothran:

"For example, is it really the case that Bonaventure is never cited?"

No.

Scott said...

(Bonaventure's views are mentioned at least twice. It's true that none of his works are directly cited, which is what Michael Sullivan actually says, but Sullivan's statement as it stands gives the misleading impression that Bonaventure is entirely ignored.)

DNW said...

Daniel says,

"This is not to come down on the side of Scotus against Thomas; it’s just there seems little reason why Thomists cannot at least countenance arguments and ideas from other scholastics if they do not imply too great a divergence from core AT metaphysics – say, Scotus’ Cosmological Argument or the proof from eternal truths for instance. There still seems an inveterate resistance to ideas Thomas himself wasn’t very interested in, which is precisely the reason the renewed interest in the Kalam Cosmological Argument and the Ontological Argument emerged from outside Catholic circles. "


Daniel, in all sincerity, and with not a whiff of sarcasm, do you know of any contemporary "Scotist" or explicitly and admittedly Scotus influenced philosophers who are working with Scotus in the manner Feser is arguing "A-T" principles?

Can you name a couple, or one, on the present scene who might have at least part of the name recognition or broad impact that Feser has had with his moderate realist arguments and approach?

For example what Scotist has engaged Alex Rosenberg or the like, on issues of nihilism moral and otherwise?

What present day Scotist is writing on any of the subjects that flow from the postmodernist social volcano like acidic lava?

I ask, because I'd really like to know. If (allowing me some hyperbole) there [was]/is anyone other than Gilson, and Adler, and now Feser and his like minded compatriots actually out there battling in the ring, writing in broad circulation public affairs journals, I'd like to know who they are.

Name me a couple of Scotists who, when hearing them speak, the secular world looks up and takes note.

Daniel said...

Well, to name one such person Richard Cross is aiming for an Analytical Scotism and has written volumes putting the Subtle Doctor's metaphysics in contrast with issues in the contemporary Analytical scene like ontologies of time.

A lot of the recent interest in Scotus is due to his connections with modal theories and Possible Worlds. With this in mind they are hardly likely to have popular appeal by the academic sphere. He is soon to have out a book on Scotus theory of cognition I believe.

As for the other issues were a Scotist to contest many of these points they would end up saying almost exactly the same as Thomists do, so the latter can claim no moral superiority there.

The reason Scotism is so woefully represented is not to do with its intrinsic merits but because it lacked any of the official popular support. It is the same reason there was little popular Thomist movement outside specialist circles beyond a certain date.

Note that I myself am not a Scotist and would support the Thomist contentions on the Real Distinction, Analogy, the Will and probably Individualisation

rank sophist said...

DNW,

That Scotus is difficult and (thanks to historical events) currently unpopular does not entail that he is wrong, just as the engagement by Thomists with current issues does not entail that they are right. (Scotus was wrong in several key areas, but that's another topic.) As of right now, what Prof. Feser says is true: Scotists are mostly scholars like Lee Faber, who are concerned with the history of scholasticism. He and apparently you take this to be a negative, but I personally find it to be refreshing. Thomist writers like Gilson, Adler and even Prof. Feser often act as though Thomism is a singular entity lacking internal contradiction, serious historical rivals or any other severe deficiencies. In fact, they argue for the return of an intellectual climate that has never actually existed, and for a societal order that likewise has never existed. The concern for a "living Thomism" is admirable, but simply ignoring Thomism's famous internal strife, or Thomism's complex historical origins, or Thomism's general failure to take root outside of the manualist period, is dangerous. I appreciate that Scotists like Faber make their position's history a primary concern, instead of sweeping it under the rug and getting on with the business of converting people to their worldview. Their metaphysics may be wrong, but their method is laudable in many ways.

Michael Sullivan said...

I've responded to this post at http://lyfaber.blogspot.com/2014/06/judging-book-by-what-it-doesnt-cover.html .

I wonder if the commenters here read my initial post. It wasn't meant to be a full book review, which I haven't finished yet, and I didn't complain that it wasn't a historical survey. I went well out of my way to make it clear that in general I approve of the kind of book Feser says he's writing.

My whole complaint (so far) is that he says "scholastics metaphysics says x" when what he really means is "manualist Thomism says x", and these are not the same thing.

By comparison, if someone were to write an introduction to analytic metaphysics, and it turned out that the only analytic he'd read was Quine and Quine's students, so that he was constantly saying "analytic ontology entails x" and "the analytic position on universals is y" when what he really meant was "Quine thinks x" and "the Quinean position implies y", most people would think there was a problem, even if Quine were the summit and fountainhead and light of anglo-analytic thought.

Scott's comments give the misleading impression that Bonaventure's metaphysics are not entirely ignored in Feser's book, to take one example. It's true that Bonaventure is mentioned twice. The first time Feser says he he has something like the modern kalam argument. That's the whole of the mention. The second time he suggests that Bonaventure has some complicated theory of form somehow related to Avicebron, but that there's disagreement about how to interpret it. That's the whole of the mention. And that's it. Nobody in their right mind would think that that means Bonaventurean thought is "included". If I write a book on the fairy tradition in English literature and it turned out to be entirely about A Midsummer Night's Dream, with no clue that I'd read any non-Shakespearean literature, I don't get a pass because I toss off as an aside, "Oh yes, I hear there were some elfs of a different sort in Spenser."

But my main point, which I'm going to stop repeating ad nauseum, is that it's factually untrue that scholasticism = Thomism. It really is no different at all from saying that analytic philosophy = Quine, or Wittgenstein, or whoever your favorite is. Scholasticism is not a philosophy and it's not a system, it's a tradition of thought that includes all sorts of non- and anti-Thomisms.

One final note: someone mentioned Cross as Scotist "entering the fray"; another is Antoine Vos, who can be a bit wacky, but his book on Scotus' philosophy (if you can find it) is well worth reading for its engagement with contemporary philosophy alone.

DNW said...

"Daniel said...

Well, to name one such person Richard Cross is aiming for an Analytical Scotism and has written volumes putting the Subtle Doctor's metaphysics in contrast with issues in the contemporary Analytical scene like ontologies of time.

A lot of the recent interest in Scotus is due to his connections with modal theories and Possible Worlds. With this in mind they are hardly likely to have popular appeal by the academic sphere. ..."


Well then, it seems that the gripe with Feser is largely for not doing what he was not intending to do; in other words for not doing what some believe he should have done if he were to adopt the terminology he did.

Perhaps I shouldn't talk. I probably have no more than half a dozen to a dozen general works on specifically Medieval philosophy on my shelf - certainly no major cache and much of that neglected - but I cannot think of a single essay describing some lasting and present day influence of Scotus in a manner that is peculiarly Scotist.

On the other hand, if my guess/memory was correct [in my remarks on "The Smithy" site], and Kneale and Kneale for example mentioned him, it was probably just in regard to the logical matters mentioned above.

This site is well populated with and apparently attracts specialists, and academics, and aspiring academics, and those who have made not only moderate realist philosophy, but Church dogma, and history, and sacred theology their avocation.

However, whatever the virtues of Abelard, or William of Champeaux or Grosseteste and Ockham, they are going to be known by the educated public, if at all, for a fragment or two of their doctrines or views. It constitutes their only current relevance. If they deserve more (in terms of current relevance) why are not those who think so out there noisily making the case?

They certainly belong in a history of Christian thought in the Middle Ages, and probably in histories of the development of logic or science. But mostly, apart from a limited number of scholars and enthusiasts, they are in practical terms dead letters, and they have no one seriously arguing their cases in the public square.

Thomism, and Feser, are there, active and in the public square; and insofar as scholasticism lives outside the classroom, it seems to be the kind he is adverting to.

I will admit that the guy is pugnacious though. Which is part of what I personally find refreshing.

One more encounter on my part with a clasped-handed, mealy-mouthed, bespectacled, gliding drone religious apologist, who wouldn't know how to work the bolt of his deer rifle if his life depended on it, and I would have figured the intellectual tradition of my dear mother's religion had something, really, actually, poisonous in it. LOL

Michael Sullivan said...

The real irony here is that I seem to be accused of making something like The Courtier's Reply to Feser and co's dismissal of the genuine scholastic tradition; and I am accusing them of doing something very like The Myers Shuffle.

DNW said...

@ Rank Sophist,

Despite the tenor, or at least the perception my remarks are leaving, I would in fact be interested in reviewing, the Scotist perspective, and will take Sullivan up on his suggestion to browse the topics he has arranged on his web site.

And I would not say that the fact that Scotists are primarily found in specialist academic circles to be a problem at all. So are Sanskrit scholars. No problem at all unless and until they began pleading for others to take their cases and include them in when going out into the public, as if they too had some current philosophical or sociopolitical relevance.

I do not think, nor mean to assert or imply, that Michael Sullivan, or anyone here, is doing this.

I'm sure Sullivan has an academic point. I'm not sure, given Feser's aims, and the recent history of Catholic philosophy, that the point strikes directly home here.

DNW said...



" Blogger Michael Sullivan said...

The real irony here is that I seem to be accused of making something like The Courtier's Reply to Feser and co's dismissal of the genuine scholastic tradition; and I am accusing them of doing something very like The Myers Shuffle.

June 4, 2014 at 10:37 AM"

With all good humor and sincerity: I swear, I for one would NEVER wittingly do that. Honestly, I personally despise the way "informal fallacies" have blossomed to the point of intellectual absurdity.

Maybe we can kill both that and the "No true Scotsman" so-called fallacy.

The fallacy of composition, let's save.

lee faber said...

DNW: clearly you have no books in German on your shelves. To take but one example, Honnefelder has written numerous philosophical tomes on the influence of Scotus on Wolff, Kant, Suarez. In French scholarship, Gilson started his career with a caresitan-scholastic index, which cartesian scholars have added to over the years, charting scotist influence over descartes. There is also Boulnois, who charts the influence of Scotus on early modern and modern thought, as well as the more paranoid discussions of Radical orthodocy, which sure, is theology, but really a lot of it is philosophical theology ("Godtalk", you analysts like to say); one could also mention brad Gregory, whose ravings make all of protestantism and subsquent history the dupes of scotus. So while I may disagree with some of the details, there is broad scholarly consensus within and without of academic philsophy that Scotus excercised vast influence on a wide variety of yes, philosophical, positions.

Also, I could very well spend my career writing short little thinkpieces about how Scotus criticizes the first way, or why you need the formal distinction, or engage the "new essentialists" from a scotist perspective or defend divine simplicity and join the general academic quest for relevance, but unfortunately Scotus' texts are in a terrible state, and nearly all the editions are atrocious and misleading. So instead, I've sacrificed a career in philosophy for the sake of leaving the actual texts of scotus to future generations, which I feel burdened to do since no one appreciates this kind of work anymore, and it is highly doubtful there will be anyone left in 30 years capable of reading scholastic manuscripts.

Michael Sullivan said...

The second part of my review is up here:

http://lyfaber.blogspot.com/2014/06/fesers-scholastic-metaphysics-book_4.html

lee faber said...

Also, as an antiquarian latinist who haunts the library rather than the debating hall with the grownups, I would like to point out that Aeterni Patris started not only the neo-scholastic movement but the modern historical study of medieval philosophy, which quickly, even during Leos lifetime, resulted in the monumental editions of the Leonine edition of Thomas and the Quaracchi edition of Bonaventure.

DNW said...

"lee faber said...

DNW: clearly you have no books in German on your shelves."


As far as untranslated German language works covering philosophy or the history of philosophy, you would be correct.


"To take but one example, Honnefelder has written numerous philosophical tomes on the influence of Scotus on Wolff, Kant, Suarez."

Thank you, but I am not sure what that is an example in aid of. Because what I have been repeatedly asking for, is for an example of a Scotist engaged in the same kind of public square activity in which we find Feser, a small number of his A-T leaning contemporaries, and a significant few of his predecessors.

I have asked for the name of two, or even one, comparable Scotist who uses the particular insights or doctrines of Duns Scotus to inform and contribute to current issues in public affairs, and to the kind of philosophical issues of interest to the informed or educated layman.

Instead, I am informed that there is abundant German language scholarship attesting to the influence of certain Scotist conceptions on early modern philosophers.

Hell, I can probably flip through the index of my largely unbroken paperback copy of "The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic" and come up with a reference to Scotus.

But what I am actually asking for should be pretty clear; and by the defensive tenor of the responses I'm getting, it is in fact probably pretty clear.

I see no recognizable names like George, or McIntyre, or Geach and Anscombe. Not that these, even, might not have some demonstrably traceable influences - though no mention so far.

"A-T" or "A" and "T", and even a layman can recognize the modern names.

The parallels among the Scotists who would establish his relevance as a scholastic for contemporary issues in philosophy and politics, are ...?


" ... I could very well spend my career writing short little thinkpieces about how Scotus criticizes the first way, or why you need the formal distinction, or ... but unfortunately Scotus' texts are in a terrible state, and nearly all the editions are atrocious and misleading. So instead, I've sacrificed a career in philosophy for the sake of leaving the actual texts of scotus to future generations, which I feel burdened to do since no one appreciates this kind of work anymore, and it is highly doubtful there will be anyone left in 30 years capable of reading scholastic manuscripts.
June 4, 2014 at 11:54 AM"



Well, thank you for what I take to be your critical editing work. My recollection is that my professors reported that the Latin of these manuscripts (taken as a class) is not one that would be transparent to someone who was taught Cesar or Cicero. Whether it was technical language, grammar, spelling, obscure references, jargon, orthography, manuscript condition, or whatever it was they might have been referring to, I seem to remember that they claimed it was markedly different.

Good luck.

DNW said...



Well, pretty recognizable ...

Add an "a" to "McIntyre"

By the way, I have something from Kneale that I'll be scanning and putting up before leaving the office.

DNW said...

Daniel said...

"Well, to name one such person Richard Cross is aiming for an Analytical Scotism and has written volumes putting the Subtle Doctor's metaphysics in contrast with issues in the contemporary Analytical scene like ontologies of time.

A lot of the recent interest in Scotus is due to his connections with modal theories and Possible Worlds. ..."



It was probably this following passage which I was trying to recollect in comments made on "The Smithy"; and which your remarks brought even more forcefully to back to mind:

"Among commentaries on the classical texts there is one of special interest called In Universam Logicam Quaestiones. lt was formerly attributed to John Duns the Scot (1266-1308), and may be found in the first volume of the edition of his works published by Luke Wadding in 1639, together with another interesting treatise called De Modis Signficandi sive Grammatica Speculativa. But the latter is now supposed to be by Thomas of Erfurt, who flourished in the first half of the fourteenth century, and the Quaestiones have been ascribed, rather quaintly, to a Pseudo-Scot. Even though he may not have been the doctor subtilis himself, this author was a very able logician, änd his work is not a mere paraphrase of the ancient texts, but a series of discussions on questions suggested by Porphyry's Eisagoge and Aristotle's Organon (apart from the Topics). Some of the problems are remote from anything considered by ancient authors. Thus quaestio 4 on the first book of the Prior Analytics is whether every proposition is universal, particular, indefinite, or singular in quantity. The author points out correctly that the distinction cannot be applied to all hypothetical (i.e. complex) propositions, though the parts of these may be säid to have quantity according to the ordinary scheme. This remark contrasts favourably with the muddled classification of judgements according to quality, quantity, relation, and modality which Kant took for granted in his Critique of Pure Reason.

In his quaestiones 25-33 and 36 on the first book of the Prior Analytics the Pseudo-Scot gives the most ingenious discussion of modal logic so far discovered in a medieval text. He docs not talk of modal propositions de dicto and de re, but like St. Thomas and Abelard before him he distinguishes a sensus compositus and a sensus divisus, and he uses this distinction for the elaboration of a new theory of conversion and syllogistic reasoning with modal propositions. In particular he tries to justify the disputed part of Aristotle's theory by maintaining in quaestio 28 that 'ex majore de necessario in sensu diviso et minore de messe valent modi primae figurae directe concludentes'. Furthermore, apart from the strictly logical modalities of necessity, possibility, contingency, and impossibility he considers others expressed by words such as dubium, scitum, opinatum, apparens, volitum, and dilectum; and he finds that some, but not all, of these are subject to rules like those holding for logical modalities.' Thus a proposition with the modal word scitum may be converted like one with necessarium and may be used in the same way as a premiss for syllogistic reasoning. Perhaps these were the complications which led medieval students of logic to say: De modalibus non gustabit asinus.

Some of the most striking passages of the work occur in quaestio 10 on the first book of the Prior Analytics and quaestio 3 on the second book. These deal with consequentiae ..."


Kneale and Kneale, The Development of Logic, Pg 242-3

And with that, I think I have played out my string on this topic.

Anonymous said...

Thomism is a bit overrrated within this church. We should not get into ideology ...

Stay critical!

Anonymous said...

so said and hopeless ...

Mr. Green said...

DNW: Honestly, I personally despise the way "informal fallacies" have blossomed to the point of intellectual absurdity. Maybe we can kill both that and the "No true Scotsman" so-called fallacy.
The fallacy of composition, let's save.


Risking an ego quoque, I must heartily concur. Except that I'd get rid of the "fallacy of composition" too. (When is the last time you encountered it in the wild that wasn't an incompetent attack on a cosmological argument?) I'm willing to accept genuine Latin fallacies in scholarly journals — maybe — but I've come to flinch whenever I stumble across mention of one on the Internet. If someone is wrong, just explain the mistake. (And for the record, the vast majority of people who have ever lived or who ever will are not true Scotsmen, so c'mon already.)

Anonymous said...

The late Fr. Alan Wolter, ofm, was a great Scotus scholar who spent most of his philosophical life translating Scotus into English and explicating his works.

I always thought it was unfortunate that Father Wolter didn't engage much with the non-Scholastic philosophers. He was certainly brilliant enough to spar with the very best of them. But maybe it was best that he helped make Scotus comprehensible to the rest of us.

Where o'where said...

Hey, where are all the loud, bold atheists that comment on Feser's posts over at Strange Notions?
I come here to see if there are similar battles being fought and to my astonishment nary an atheist.

maybe an anonymous peep and then scamper. But none of the names that act so confident in their dismissal over at SN.

Even over at Reppert's blog you'll see a thick gathering of atheists. But not here. That's weird to me.

Greg said...

I'm surprised the Strange Notions folk don't make their way over here.

I don't think most of them have a general interest in philosophy, though, and Feser hasn't been posting about arguments for God's existence recently (since he's built up an impressive archive).

From what I can glean, the atheists there (and this is obviously a gross generalization) are only interested in blog posts containing an argument for God's existence. When Feser's Road from Atheism piece was posted there, a bunch of them were asking what the point of it was. Others thought that the references to analytic philosophy were posturing, and wanted them to be explained or distilled into a concrete and direct argument.

Scott said...

@Michael Sullivan:

The book description is pretty up-front about what's in it. I do understand your objections, but it seems to me that most or all of them could have been met simply by changing the word "Scholastic" to "Thomistic" in the title of the book.

And I'm not agreeing that even that much should have been done. The book is, after all, explicitly called a contemporary introduction, and the current state of Scholastic metaphysics is overwhelmingly Thomistic and has been for a century and more. You may find that state of affairs itself deplorable, but it hardly seems fair to blame Ed for recognizing it in his title.

"[I]t's factually untrue that scholasticism = Thomism. It really is no different at all from saying that analytic philosophy = Quine, or Wittgenstein, or whoever your favorite is."

I'm not sure this analogy is apt. Suppose instead that analytic philosophy falls into disfavor in a century or two and is revived some four or five centuries thereafter. Suppose further that this analytic philosophy redivivus is based almost solely on the views of Ayer, Carnap, and Schlick. Finally, suppose that someone at that time finds these views intellectually persuasive and, from that point of view, writes a book entitled Analytic Philosophy: A Contemporary Introduction that sets out those views and defends them specifically against the views of other then-contemporary philosophers. Do you really think that title would be misleading just because the book made only passing mention of (say) Wittgenstein and Quine?

Michael Sullivan said...

Scott, I absolutely do think it would be misleading and wrong. It is not impossible today to have a more accurate understanding of scholasticism as a whole than "neo-Thomism". As I noted in my review, in the very first sentence of Feser's book he recognizes that Scholasticism is that tradition of thought which includes not only Aquinas, but Scotus, Ockham, Suarez, etc etc. Once that recognition has been made it's already tendentious to go on to say that Scholaticism = Thomism and that those other thinkers are only worthy of mention when they "depart" from Thomism.

It's absolutely true that neither Feser nor anyone else has a duty to study or mention or argue with non-Thomistic scholastics. But Feser does in fact gesture towards doing so at many places in his book; but he does not do it well. I note that no one has yet engaged my criticisms of some of the actual content of his book yet. The whole initial post on the bibliography was just establishing that, by all appearances, Feser has not done his homework on a lot of the material he discusses. On the analytic side, as far as I can tell, he does a good job, but on the scholastic side, when he's talking about scholastics other than Thomists, it's a mess.

On page 254 of the book Feser writes, "analytic philosophers need a better understanding of Scholastic logical and semantic doctrines before they can properly understand, much less criticize, Scholastic metaphysical theses." Unfortunately this is true, and applies with equal strength to Feser himself and almost every Thomist with regards to all the non-Thomist scholastics. Go ahead and ignore them all. But if you're going to disagree with Scotus, say, on univocity, the common nature, the formal distinction, individuation, infinity, etc., etc., and loudly trumpet how wrong he is (or even, like so many do, make elaborate claims for how he ruined philosophy forever by destroying the purity of the "scholastic synthesis"), then you owe it to yourself and your subject matter and your readers to make a good-faith effort to actually understand what Scotus said and why he said it. This, by all the evidence, Feser has not done.

Tom said...

@Where o'where/Greg: If the chaps from Strange Notions or any of the other usual Catholic/atheist fighting spots (Unequally Yoked is another one I frequent, although it's not usually nearly as bad as SN), it would be a very mixed bag. The loss of an almost uniformly intelligent commentariat would be sad, but the curbstompings that would result might just make up for it.

Scott said...

@Michael Sullivan:

"[O]n the scholastic side, when he's talking about scholastics other than Thomists, it's a mess."

Well, I'm certainly happy to credit (and thank) you for re-piquing my interest in those other scholastics, especially Scotus. So let's turn this into a constructive occasion with a question the answer to which will be helpful to me (but, I hope, not only to me).

Let's take four of the Big Names: Bonaventure, Scotus, Cajetan, and Suárez. An English-speaking reader who doesn't know medieval Latin would like to be introduced to each of them. If you were to recommend one translation of a work by each of them and one modern book about each of them, what would your choices be?

Matthew Gaetano said...

What are you interested in, Scott?

Cajetan's commentary on Thomas' On Being and Essence is a classic, but it's quite challenging.

http://books.google.com/books/about/Commentary_on_Being_and_Essence.html?id=HFsdAAAAIAAJ

Reilly's book is an old defense of Cajetan's notion of existence:

http://www.amazon.com/Cajetans-Notion-Existence-J-Reilly/dp/B00HXC2DX0/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1401996478&sr=1-1&keywords=Cajetan%27s+notion+existence

For Suarez, I would highly recommend the work of John Doyle. http://www.ontology.co/biblio/john-doyle.htm

Here are all of the translations of Suarez's Metaphysical Disputations: http://www.sydneypenner.ca/SuarTr.shtml#dm

I'll let someone more knowledgeable provide a guide to Bonaventure and Scotus. The first part of Sullivan's review offered many suggestions as far as Scotus was concerned.

Scott said...

@Matthew Gaetano:

"What are you interested in, Scott?"

All of it, but it's not just about me; I've been introduced to these guys already, I just don't know them very well yet. The purpose of my question was to find out what Michael Sullivan (who clearly knows his scholastics) thinks is the most important stuff to know about each one and what he thinks are the best introductions to their thought, partly for my own sake (to help me prioritize my own reading) and partly for the sake of anyone else lurking here who might benefit from such advice from a knowledgeable expert. At any rate, if he's concerned about getting the word out on Scotus and the rest of the gang, here's an opportunity.

In what follows I've taken the liberty of turning your URLs into live links for the convenience of anyone else who might want to follow up on your recommendations.

"Cajetan's commentary on Thomas' On Being and Essence is a classic, but it's quite challenging.

http://books.google.com/books/about/Commentary_on_Being_and_Essence.html?id=HFsdAAAAIAAJ

I expected that one to place high on the Cajetan list. It's already in my Amazon shopping cart but on your recommendation I'm bumping it up in priority.

"Reilly's book is an old defense of Cajetan's notion of existence:

http://www.amazon.com/Cajetans-Notion-Existence-J-Reilly/dp/B00HXC2DX0/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1401996478&sr=1-1&keywords=Cajetan%27s+notion+existence"

That looks interesting.

"For Suarez, I would highly recommend the work of John Doyle. http://www.ontology.co/biblio/john-doyle.htm"

Wow, that's quite a list. Anywhere in particular you'd choose as a good place to start?

"Here are all of the translations of Suarez's Metaphysical Disputations: http://www.sydneypenner.ca/SuarTr.shtml#dm"

Now that's one (as my grandfather used to say) ham-dandy resource. I'm surprised I haven't run across it before, but at any rate I now have it bookmarked.

"I'll let someone more knowledgeable provide a guide to Bonaventure and Scotus. The first part of Sullivan's review offered many suggestions as far as Scotus was concerned."

It did indeed, but I'm still interested to hear what he thinks is the best place to begin.

Thank you very much for your suggestions. They're very helpful.

Matthew Gaetano said...

Thanks for the links, Scott. Doyle's work is quite extensive. I'm not sure if there is one essay (besides his biographical sketch) that would be a good starting point. Perhaps the following book might be useful as an entry point into the work of Suarez: http://www.amazon.com/Suarez-Scholasticism-Modernity-Marquette-Philosophy/dp/0874627508

As for a particular disputation, I might recommend On Formal and Universal Unity, trans. James Ross. It deals with the problem of universals with great sophistication.

Scott said...

@Matthew Gaetano:

Thank you again. The Pereira book and the Ross translation have now been added to my Amazon shopping cart.

Anonymous said...

@ Where o'where/Greg
"Hey, where are all the loud, bold atheists that comment on Feser's posts over at Strange Notions?"

Was wondering that too, so I did a quick search and found this blog where the same people that comment on SN are:
outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com

It's sad that the theistic side always seem to "lose" on strange notions, there's just very few theists there and the few that are don't do a very good job at it.

But at least unlike SN and Reppert's blog the level of discourse here excellent.

Anonymous said...

There are a couple of "I'm the big man around here" atheists at Strange Notions.
They'd be in too deep of waters here to even be relevant. They won't come.
Maybe make a pot shot and run away, but they won't stay around.

It is kind of annoying to see that SN will have an article by Fr. Barron posted only for your community college atheist to sneer at what he's saying.

Look what happened to Chris Hallquist. He came here for a bit, thought his intellect was up to par, got embarrassed by Feser on two articles and rarely comes by any more.

Anonymous said...

Ahhh!! I see now.
Outshine the Sun is a mock blog to Strange Notions.

Back when I was big into Intelligent Design there were so many mock blogs to the blogs I would frequent. And that's where so much anti_ID traffic came from.

Anonymous said...

Here are some recommendations on Scotus, with the qualification that while I'm interested in Scotus I'm by no means a scholar. I've also provided several options for primary and secondary literature since it really depends on what people want to focus on. There's not really one book or anthology in English translation that'll give you a good overview of Scotus's philosophy or theology. There are only a few introductions to Scotus in English of recent vintage, and they tend to emphasize either Scotus's philosophy or theology to the exclusion of the other.

Primary texts:

Philosophical Writings translated and edited by Allan Wolter - This anthology contains selections on Scotus's metaphysics, natural theology, and epistemology.

It's out of print, but William Frank and Allen Wolter's Duns Scotus, Metaphysician has selections on Scotus's metaphysics with accompanying commentary.

Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality translated by Allan Wolter and edited by William Frank - This anthology has selections on Scotus's ethics. There is also an introduction and commentary by Wolter.

For Scotus on universals, you could read the relevant section of Paul Vincent Spade's Five Texts on the Mediaeval Problem of Universals.

Wolter's translation of and commentary on A Treatise on God as First Principle is alas long out of print and really hard to find, but the translation is available online: http://www.ewtn.com/library/theology/godasfir.htm

Secondary literature:

The best introduction to Scotus is Duns Scotus by Richard Cross. However, the emphasis is more on Scotus's theology.

The Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus edited by Thomas Williams could serve as an overview of Scotus's philosophy, but it is written at a level that's more advanced than what you'd expect for an introductory survey.

Articles:

Thomas Williams has a good survey article on Scotus in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/duns-scotus/

If you have access to Philosophy Compass, you might want to see Richard Cross's survey article "Recent Work on the Philosophy of Duns Scotus." He briefly surveys the recent scholarship on Scotus's metaphysics, modal theory, cognitive psychology, semantics, and ethics. He focuses specifically on work that has relevance to topics in analytic philosophy. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1747-9991.2010.00310.x/abstract

Scott said...

Good suggestions; thanks. (Some of those I already have, but others may not,)

Joe K. said...

@Michael Sullivan

I haven't read Feser's new book (because it will never come in), and I will be the first to admit I do not have experience with other scholastic philosophers, but I feel like you might be missing Feser's and Scott's point here.

You wrote: "On page 254 of the book Feser writes, "analytic philosophers need a better understanding of Scholastic logical and semantic doctrines before they can properly understand, much less criticize, Scholastic metaphysical theses." Unfortunately this is true, and applies with equal strength to Feser himself and almost every Thomist with regards to all the non-Thomist scholastics."

Scott said, and forgive me if I'm misrepresenting him, that "Scholastic" in the context of Feser's book could often be interchanged (in many ways)/or could be fixed with "Thomistic." So Feser's sentence would read "analytic philosophers need a better understanding of Thomistic logical and semantic doctrines before they can properly understand, much less criticize, Thomistic metaphysical theses."

Why then would Feser have to even address or understand other Scholastics, as you imply? They aren't in view. The point of that sentence (and the book as far as I gather) is to criticize analytic philosophers who do not understand Thomism. He's not criticizing other Scholastics. And he is calling modern Thomism "Neo-Scholasticism" for the reasons Scott already pointed out.

You don't like the concept that Scholastic or Neo-Scholastic mostly just means Thomistic today. Fine. If that's your criticism of his book, fine. But if your criticism is that Feser himself doesn't understand Scholastic thought (non-purely-Thomistic thought), then using this book as an example of this argument is just silly. Maybe Feser doesn't understand. And maybe the other Scholastics' criticisms were correct. Okay. That would in no way affect Feser's point that analytic philosophers do not understand and do not properly criticize Thomism, which Feser is calling Neo-Scholasticism.

Scott said...

@Joe K.:

"Scott said, and forgive me if I'm misrepresenting him…"

You're not.

Greg said...

Why then would Feser have to even address or understand other Scholastics, as you imply? They aren't in view. The point of that sentence (and the book as far as I gather) is to criticize analytic philosophers who do not understand Thomism. He's not criticizing other Scholastics. And he is calling modern Thomism "Neo-Scholasticism" for the reasons Scott already pointed out.

Sullivan has called attention to the second sentence of Scholastic Metaphysics, though, where Feser characterizes scholasticism as including authors other than Aquinas.

It seems to me like Sullivan--though he should answer for himself--would not have a problem (or as much of a problem) with an identification of Thomism with neo-scholasticism, ie. if the book were titled Neo-Scholastic Metaphysics.

Greg said...

Anon @ 2:48 PM,

Thanks for those. My reading list right now is a bit too long, but hopefully I will get the chance to delve into some of them in due time.

Michael Sullivan said...

Lots of good book recommendations; I'd like to reiterate that a book on Scotus for analytic readers, though it's uneven in its quality, is Antoine Vos' The Philosophy of John Duns Scotus.

I didn't see any Bonaventure suggestions. I already gave some on my blog. Probably the best for a Thomist is Gilson's The Philosophy of St Bonaventure; the most comprehensive but very long and intimidating - really the supreme Bonaventure study of them all - is JF Quinn's The Historical Constitution of St Bonaventure's Philosophy. There's a good introduction to Bonaventure by Bougerol. For the man himself the best thing to start with, if you can find it, is the Latin-English edition with translation and commentary by Philotheus Boehner of the Itinerarium Mentis in Deum. The newer edition revised by Zachary Hayes and issued by FIP is in my opinion not an improvement.

Michael Sullivan said...

Joe K.,

you and some others seem to be misunderstanding the thrust of some of my criticism; and I wonder if you have read Feser's book. The facts are that a) Feser admits in the book that scholasticism is more than Thomism and neo-Thomism, and b) he does in fact claim as part of the goal of the book to discuss non-Thomist ideas to the extent that they diverge from Thomism. My biggest complaints are a) in practice he seems to waffle between the view that scholasticism=Thomism or that Thomism is the default or the only view worth considering on the one hand, and the view that Thomism is simply the best or most convincing of the scholastic systems on the other hand, but these two views are not at all the same; b) far from simply ignoring other scholastic views and mentioning only Thomist or "neo-scholastic" ones (I would indeed be judging the book by what it doesn't cover if that was all), he in fact purports to give and argue against others, predominantly Scotist ones, with some frequency; and when he does so he does a bad job. In the second half of my review I examined his presentation and rejection of the formal distinction at some length as an example. They could be multiplied ad libitum. To take another example, in the section towards the end on analogy, he says something to the effect (I don't have the book in front of me right this minute so this time I can't give an exact quote or page number) that "Scotus thinks you can have conceptual univocity of being. But Thomists think that this can't be made coherent since being isn't a genus." Literally two sentences on the whole issue. No argument, no refutation: it's mentioned only in order to toss it aside without consideration. The kicker is that after these two sentences he gives two references, both to mid-20th-century Thomist manuals. Nothing from Scotus or any secondary literature to even hint at or follow up on what is one of Scotus' most famous and controversial doctrines. Why mention Scotus at all unless as a fig leaf to appear to be covering the bases? But if you're going to cover the bases you need to actually do it and say what Scotus' position actually is and at least give a reason why it's no good; the scholarly way to do this, and Feser claims in this post that this book is scholarly, would be to do this and justify your claims with references to legitimate sources of your information.

There's no really no difference between what Feser does in this instance and Bertrand Russell saying in his history of philosophy that Aquinas wasn't really a philosopher because the Church told him what to think, so we needn't bother studying him.

Daniel said...

I second recommendations for The Historical Constitution of St Bonaventure's Philosophy. A magisterial book, one which will enhance one’s understanding of Thomas as much as Bonaventure. Gilson’s book is good, but somehow leaves one with the impression that the Saint was just a theologian who occasionally dabbled in philosophy (and of course contains the obligatory Thomist Strawman attack on the Ontological Argument).

Unfortunately, I have yet to read one single volume on Scotus in English which satisfies me. Cross’s introductory work is admirably lucid but says curiously little about the specifically Scholastic issues for which I’d think the Subtle Doctor was most well known. I have the Vos book but I have yet to read it. There is also a beginner’s introduction to Scotus entitled Duns Scotus: the Basic Principles of his Philosophy, which I think readers here might enjoy, as it’s basically an old neo-Scholastic manual but from a Scotist’s point of view.

There are a plethora of Medieval works, both translations and secondary literature, which though not immediately relevant to contemporary issues deeply reward further study. Off the top of my head I can mention: Robert Grosseteste’s essays on Cosmology and Perception, Richard Southern’s studies on Grosseteste and Anselm, Doyle’s studies of Suarez and of the Conimbricenses, Gordon Wilson’s Companion to Henry of Ghent and the Brill Francis of Marchia - Theologian and Philosopher. There must also be a good book out there on Nicholas of Oresme and on the later Scotists, although I’ve yet to find them.

On an aside, I think it amusing that no one else has picked up on my Devil’s Advocate criticism of Ed’s new volume, namely that contemporary philosophy needs must refer to Continental thought as well as Analytical. Of course, I know that Ed’s area of interest is Analytical metaphysics and wouldn’t have expected anything otherwise.

Joe K. said...

@Michael Sullivan

You need not wonder if I've read the book. I already explicitly said that I hadn't. But I think that's not the point I'm making. Let me illustrate. If any part of this illustration does not match up with what is in his book, let me know.

A = Thomism, what Feser may refer to as "Neo-Scholasticism"

B = Other non-Thomistic Scholastic philosophy

A + B = C

C = "Scholasticism"

D = Analytic philosophy, other modern, non-essentialist philosophies, critics of Scholasticism

The following is assumed to be true: A > B where they differ.

The point of the book is to prove: C > D.

Now, in proving C > D, because A > B is Assumed, Feser would merely need to explain why A > D. He would only need to explain why A > B insofar as B aligned with D or insofar as D was criticizing B. Further, insofar as A does not sufficiently address D, he could use the principles of B, insofar as they don't contradict A, to show that C > D. He's not throwing out B, as far as I can tell. He's simply saying that where A and B differ, A is superior.

I'll put it in a different context.

A = Catholicism

B = Protestantism

A + B = C

C = "Christianity"

D = Islam, other non-Christian religions

The following is assumed to be true: A > B

Someone writes a book trying to prove that C > D. Because it is assumed that A > B, a writer would only need to show why A > D. And proving A > B would be besides that point, only necessary in certain contexts.

For example, if someone were criticizing the principles of the eucharist, someone defending the principles and who assumed that Catholicism is superior to (some sects of) Protestantism would defend the criticisms assuming that transubstantiation is the correct view of the eucharist and Christianity. Such a writer would only need to briefly mention that some sects of Christianity believe that consubstantiation is the correct view.

It would make no sense for such a writer to devote a portion of his book trying to prove that Christianity is superior to Islam and other religions to first show why transubstantiation is superior to consubstantiation. It would get in the way of his point. But insofar as Protestantism has created helpful and true explanations of Christian principles in ways that don't contradict Catholic ones, they could certainly be used by such a writer to show why Christianity, as a whole, is superior to other religions.

Now, a Protestant might fairly say "HEY, YOU CAN'T CLAIM TO BE THE CORRECT FORM OF CHRISTIANITY AND SO TAKE THAT TITLE!" And I think that would be a valid criticism because it might confuse people. And because it might be a little presumptuous. And I Think that's part of your criticism of Feser's use of "Scholasticism" here. But it would be unjust to say "This book doesn't work because it doesn't show why Catholic views are superior to Protestant ones!" That just wasn't the point of the book at all. In the same way, it wasn't the point of this book to show why Thomism is philosophically superior to other non-Thomist Scholastics where they differ.

If your point is that Feser needs to cash in that assumption, that's fine. And maybe he will. But I haven't read the book (because Amazon hates me), and maybe there are many places in the book where by failing to prove A > B, it harms his argument that C > D. I don't know. But in the places it doesn't harm the argument, I don't think your criticism (or some portion of them) can be valid.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Joe K.

I would also add that people are starving for a non-pedantic book on the topic of proving that C > D that is accessible to non-academics as well.

You may disagree with his overlooking or misrepresenting B, but from my perspective, you are arguing in an ivory tower over the merits of serving fish over steak when those of us on the outside of the tower are starving for anything that can replace the drivel they we are subjected to every day.

If you think B > A in some cases and can help show that B > D in those instances, then please write such a book!

Cheers,
Daniel

Scott said...

It's a shame that the Gilson and Quinn books on Bonaventure are so very not uncheap. I am happy to report, though, that my copy of Itinerarium Mentis in Deum is the Boehner translation.

Scott said...

@Michael Sullivan:

"There's no really no difference between what Feser does in this instance and Bertrand Russell saying in his history of philosophy that Aquinas wasn't really a philosopher because the Church told him what to think, so we needn't bother studying him."

I understand your objection but I must say that I think this is a vast overstatement even if you're correct in every detail. There's a world of difference between simply not covering a topic adequately or to the satisfaction of a scholarly reader, on the one hand, and dismissing a philosopher wholesale merely because he's a Christian theologian on the other.

(I still remember the first time I read that statement of Russell's. I think my jaw almost literally dropped, both at the casualness of the dismissal and at the utter misunderstanding of Aquinas that it implied.)

Scott said...

Oops, I meant to say that the Gilson and Quinn books are not not uncheap.

Anonymous said...

I studied the Itinerarium in my undergrad. I have the Classics of Western Spirituality version. What a beautifully written book! I have often wondered how his theology/philosophy gels with Aquinas. Are they complementary, contradictory, and so on.

Cheers,
Daniel

Scott said...

Ouch, the Vos book falls even farther short of being not uncheap.

Scott said...

"I agree with Joe K."

And for the most part so do I. Ed's purpose in his book is very clearly to present scholastic philosophy at what he himself takes to be its best as a neglected alternative to what he sees as the morass (or dead end) of modern philosophy.

I'm certainly open to argument on the question of whether he (or anyone else) has properly understood Bonaventure or Scotus or whomever, but it's very clearly his aim to present Thomism as the crème de la crème of scholastic philosophy and to give brief consideration to other scholastic views only insofar as they differ (or "depart," which I don't take as implying any sort of normativity) from Thomism. I think the book succeeds in that aim and I'm not bothered by the fact that I have to look at other sources to get full-orbed presentations of the views of other scholastics.

That's not to say that I'm unsympathetic to Michael Sullivan's concerns. But I think my overall response to those concerns matches yours: if that's what you think and you can back it up with argument, then write your own book!

Scott said...

And in all seriousness I would be very interested in a book that engaged Ed's arguments from a Scotist point of view. I'm sure I'm not alone in that.

Crude said...

Add in one more endorsement for Joe K's reasoning here.

I'm sympathetic to Michael Sullivan's desire to see Scotus and other scholastic philosophers (aside from Aquinas or the Thomistically inclined in general) more thoroughly represented. On the other hand, I also think what I take to be Ed's point about the need to shift gears from maintaining a scholastic museum (so to speak) to deploying the thoughts of Scotus, etc, and showing their relevance to contemporary philosophical concerns is valid, even if this involves building on the arguments. I'd certainly enjoy reading that myself - and, ironically enough, my interest in Scotus has largely grown due to Ed's discussion of the scholastic worldview anyway.

Just one reader's and regular's opinion.

Prince Randoms said...

Is my understanding correct that Scotus was a bit more of a neoplatonist than aristotelean correct?

My flirting with Orthodoxy has really warmed me up to Neoplatonism.

Scott said...

@Prince Randoms:

"Is my understanding correct that Scotus was a bit more of a neoplatonist than aristotelean correct?"

Well, John Duns Scotus was certainly influenced by Augustine (who was in turn influenced by Neoplatonism), but I think you may be thinking of Johannes Scotus Eriugena. Different guy.

Michael Sullivan said...

"Is my understanding correct that Scotus was a bit more of a neoplatonist than aristotelean correct?"

As a blanket statement, it is not correct. Aquinas was at least as much of a neoplatonist as Scotus anyway, and very arguably more so.

My critique of Feser is of course not to pick on him specifically but to criticize certain key aspects of the whole neo-Thomist paradigm in which he's working as having serious defects both from a historical and from a systematic point of view. And I'm glad to hear that there's interest in the wider scholastic tradition. I am myself working on a non- museum piece in the Scotist tradition, but it's a long-term project. Maybe I should blog more in the interim.

By the way, I am very sympathetic to the cost issues Scott mentions. It's a lot easier and cheaper to build a basic Thomist library than to branch out to other scholastics. The dominance of Thomism becomes a self-perpetuating cycle: since the books are cheaper, more people read them and are convinced the don't need the others, so the others become more and more rare and expensive.

Many years ago Lee Faber and I both worked at the once-famous, now-defunct Newman Bookstore in Washington, D.C., and the cores of our libraries were built on the young graduate student's ability to prioritize books in our modest budgets and on the 40% employee discount.

Scott said...

@Michael Sullivan:

"I'm glad to hear that there's interest in the wider scholastic tradition. I am myself working on a non-museum piece in the Scotist tradition, but it's a long-term project. Maybe I should blog more in the interim."

There most certainly is such interest, and quite a few of the regulars here, I'm sure, will be very interested in your long-term project. In the meantime, yes, please blog up a storm. You'll have lots of interested readers from hereabouts, and I'm sure some of us will pass word along to others. I know I will.

Scott said...

And although of course I can't speak for Ed, I'm sure he'd be delighted to have someone engage his thought from a Scotist point of view and give him an opportunity to get a little pugnacious with his general philosophical allies. ;-)

Daniel said...

I too will raise my hand in favour of more popularising Scotist engagement with contemporary thought. After all what is the point in having immaculate critical additions unless new minds are fired to read them?

"Is my understanding correct that Scotus was a bit more of a neoplatonist than aristotelean correct?"

Well Scotus paid more attention to pure logic than Thomas but that hardly makes him a Neoplatonist. At most one might surmise that he cared more for Ibn Sina than for Aristotle purus.

Eriugena was a fantastically interesting thinker, a sort of Augustinian cross between Plotinus and Hegel. His Periphyseon is definitely worth tracking down if you have the money.

On the subject of Bonaventure, would anyone here happen to have a text file of the translation of his Commentary on the Sentences that the Franciscan publishing institute had up on their website for ages?
If so I would be most grateful if I could have a look at it?

Michael Sullivan said...

Joe K.,

Thanks for taking the time to write a well-reasoned critique of my critique. Where, in my opinion, the disanalogy lies is in fact that, unlike Christianity vs Islam, there is little specifically metaphysical positive content among the scholastics. The dead horse I keep beating is that while Thomism is a philosophy and Scotism is a philosophy and Okchamism is a philosophy and Bonaventureanism is a philosophy, there is no scholastic philosophy. It's deceptive insofar as they all share a more-or-less common vocabulary and method and traditions of thought, and more importantly, they all share pretty much the same theology and their philosophy and their theology are all mixed together. But when you separate them out you see that "scholasticism" includes a lot of positive theological content they all share, and practically no philosophical content they all share. The same thing is true for analytic philosophy. So when we're talking about philosophy we just can't say something like C>D. Insofar as I'm a realist (in a certain sense) about universals and some analytics are too, I think some analytics are more right than Ockham and sometimes some D > some C. But Ockham is still very worth reading because as a genius scholastic he's better at presenting and arguing his position than most analytics and has much to contribute to the argument about universals.

Just like modern philosophers, scholastics vastly disagreed on what metaphysics was even about, never mind its arguments or doctrines. Joseph Owens in his landmark The Doctrine of Being in the Aristotelian Metaphysics, 42, writes "In point of fact, the different Christian thinkers of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries developed radically divergent metaphysics. Yet all learned their technique from Aristotle, and all couched their theses in his formulae. They held in common the doctrine of God and creatures taught by their faith. How can the all-pervasive differences in their metaphysics by explained?" Gilson in La Philosophie au Moyen Age mentions "the extreme diversity of points of view [the scholastics have] on practically all questions." This is the truth about our own native tradition as Catholic philosophers that the Feserian approach papers over in the interests of presenting a unified front to the atheists. But I'm arguing it's a mistake.

DNW said...

Michael Sullivan says,
" Just like modern philosophers, scholastics vastly disagreed on what metaphysics was even about... Yet all learned their technique from Aristotle, and all couched their theses in his formulae. They held in common the doctrine of God and creatures taught by their faith. ... This is the truth about our own native tradition as Catholic philosophers that the Feserian approach papers over in the interests of presenting a unified front to the atheists. But I'm arguing it's a mistake.

June 6, 2014 at 2:21 PM"


I think that you have misstated, or overstated Feser's motivation there; and having witnessed your overall reasonableness, would yourself probably, given the opportunity, re-frame it somewhat.

I've never gotten the impression that Feser's so much trying to bolster the image of his own gang, as [putting it extravagantly perhaps myself] leaving week-kneed sisters and somewhat imbecile cousins behind. Where they are obviously more comfortable, and less capable of sowing confusion.

What is the point, if you think as Feser surely does, that you have a coherent and compelling set of still vital and relevant doctrines derived from some set of the schoolmen, those sepcifically adverted to by recent pontifs, in including obsessive, as Lee Faber put it, "god talkers", or hairsplitters, or even, those argument-for-argument's-sake trolls of that age my professors mentioned. You would probably want to kill Abelard too, if you met him.

Not that Feser views Scotus, or anyone else necessarily in exactly those terms or any very much like it.

But surely the most he can really be accused of as a philosopher is of not being an even-handed historian of philosophy, but instead, a current partisan of one still somewhat vital school.

Here's a question no one seems willing to address. Why does Scotus deserve any current respect or consideration outside of the pages of a comprehensive history of philosophy or logic?

Specifically.

Grant for the sake of argument that Feser is casual or dismissive or even negligent in his treatment of what Scotus has to offer.

Then you make the case that Scotus has not been given credit where credit is due.

What credit is Scotus due?

What's he got to say to Alex Rosenberg? Or even Dawkins?

What's Scotus got to offer?

And Bonaventure?

Come on ...

E.H. Munro said...

Risking an ego quoque, I must heartily concur. Except that I'd get rid of the "fallacy of composition" too. (When is the last time you encountered it in the wild that wasn't an incompetent attack on a cosmological argument?) I'm willing to accept genuine Latin fallacies in scholarly journals — maybe — but I've come to flinch whenever I stumble across mention of one on the Internet. If someone is wrong, just explain the mistake.

What appalls me beyond aught else is that they don't even properly apply the rhetorical fallacies they're accusing people of committing. There are times that I feel the incurable urge to grab a ballpeen hammer and go Ben Yachov on them. Mostly I mock them, though.

ccmnxc said...

Dr. Sullivan-
On a somewhat different note, assuming you have read it, would you say that Copleston in his History of Philosophy did a good job of presenting the thought of Duns Scotus, or do you think he got him wrong at some points?
Thanks

Lee Faber said...

"What credit is Scotus due?

What's he got to say to Alex Rosenberg? Or even Dawkins?

What's Scotus got to offer?"

Well, he makes arguments about issues that are not restricted to one place or time. One might call them perennial. He has arguments that one can ponder on:

-the existence of God
-universals
-the nature of metaphysics
-divine simplicity
-various other divine issues, such as foreknowledge, eternity
-mereology
-identity and distinction

These are all issues that ought to trouble a Dawkins as well as an analytic philosopher.

But I think the scope of the conversation is somewhat limited. Scotus has more things to say than what is of interest to an analyst. He also has a lot of specifically theological material that is examined in a philosophical manner, for example, on the eucharist, the motive of the incarnation, the interaction of grace and the will, beatitude and enjoyment, and so on.

Anonymous said...

Scotus on the Incarnation -- according to Fr. Wolter, Scotus thought that Jesus chose Incarnation because He wanted to save us and because He wanted to be with us. Beautiful :-)

Anonymous said...

"This is the truth about our own native tradition as Catholic philosophers that the Feserian approach papers over in the interests of presenting a unified front to the atheists. But I'm arguing it's a mistake."

Anyone who takes the time to read this blog or some of his other books will come to understand that there are a variety of different scholastics, and a variety of different Thomisms even today. For example, one of the blog posts on this thread is an excerpt from a original chapter in his book on Aquinas that describes the history of the different Thomisms, but the chapter was removed after consultation with his editors. And Ed clearly identified himself with one of those schools. Why does he do this? I suspect because he thinks that particular school of Thomism is more accurate - is more true - than the others.

Your particular shtick is that he doesn't do enough to accurately represent other scholastic philosophers like Scotus. In fact, from the tone of your Web site, it seems like you strongly favour Scotus against Thomism. You have characterized your flirtation with Thomism as part of your immature teen years and early 20s. You and Lee have attacked his presentation of Thomism as Triumphalistic and the imposition of Thomism as the semi official doctrine of the Catholic church as a punishment from God -LOL.

From this it seems clear to me that you are not advocating some impartial historical reading of Thomism. What you want is Scotism in its place. And if not Scotism, then some eclectic grab-bag of philosophies you in particular endorse.

That is nothing to be ashamed of. Thomas himself was amazing at sifting through different philosophers of ages past, and agreeing with them where he could, and departing from them when he felt they were wrong. In fact, I take the church's endorsement of Thomism as fundamentally pointing to this tendency as exemplary.

But I don't begrudge Feser his right to present what he feels is the strongest position in scholasticism. I don't see this as a mistake. Just as I would expect you, if you were ever to write a book on scholasticism, to do your audience the favour of being open about which of their views convinces you the most.

Cheers,
Daniel

Lee Faber said...

Daniel, what I at least think would have been best is that whether or not thomas himself was set before us as a model, in execution, in the schools themselves, a diversity of opinion should have been tolerated. Rather than what we had, which was Leo ordering the Franciscan order to become Thomists, or (the tales of) non thomists being banished to minor seminaries (see Sullivan's response to this post on our blog if you want to label me a conspiracy theorist, don't waste space here), or the curious phenomenon of all the non thomist systematic thinkers, ie. neo-scholastics teaching dogmatic theology, etc., as distinct from historical studies of scholasticism, rebranding themselves as Suarezing-Thomists or Scotistic-Thomists; instead of all this I would have liked to see open debate between the various schools. This isn't syncretism, but rather the awareness that no system is complete. As Scotus says, "with time the knowledge of the truth grows".

This diversity of opinion was allowed in historical research on scholasticism, which also began with the Leonine revival. So while many worked on Aquinas, it was permitted to study the other scholastics from the perspective of what one could call archaeology. And it is this tradition that I work in. So while I may at times express impatience at the modern catholic intellectual scene and thomist triumphalism in particular, I owe as much to Leo as do the thomists and have much in common with them.

Michael Sullivan said...


From this it seems clear to me that you are not advocating some impartial historical reading of Thomism. What you want is Scotism in its place. And if not Scotism, then some eclectic grab-bag of philosophies you in particular endorse.


If by "in its place" you mean that I would prefer Scotism to hold the place in Catholic intellectual life that Thomism now does, that is emphatically not the case. What I want is the possibility of other views and better arguments to be taken seriously, and when you pretend to engage other views and evaluate other arguments, to have the decency to give your opponent a fair hearing rather than a casual dismissal.

Scotus could never replace Thomas as the common doctor of the Church. His works are too hard, too obscure, too specialized. As I've said many times and never tire of repeating, there are good pedagogical and intellectual reasons to start one's studies with Thomas, who is after all the patron saint not of philosophers but of teachers. There's no obligation to extend one's studies any further; but if you don't, it should be out of a sense of your limitations and finite leisure and capacities, not out of complacency that you've already thought everything worth thinking. If I have an argument against Thomas I don't want to be smugly handed the 24 thomistic theses; and when I disagree with one I don't want to be given, instead of an argument, an insinuation that I'm flirting with heresy.

And I don't accuse Feser himself of triumphalism, but more of that kind of complacency that there's no point in taking non-Thomism seriously. The triumphalism is out there, though, and it's real.

Crude said...

Michael,

And I don't accuse Feser himself of triumphalism, but more of that kind of complacency that there's no point in taking non-Thomism seriously. The triumphalism is out there, though, and it's real.

Probably. But - and this is no excuse for it - it's dwarfed from triumphalism and complacency that kicks the scholastics as a whole into either the garbage bin or the dustiest of library stacks. To Ed's credit, he's done a pretty fantastic job in my view of challenging what is the far more overwhelming consensus (which almost entirely ignores Scotus, and only makes reference to Ockham for mangled razor purposes) and indicating that the philosophers of the past wrote about ideas worth considering, and which still have relevance today.

I'm going to suggest something that ups the ante here: I think Feser has done more to promote interest in the writings of Scotus and scholastics in general than most actual contemporary scholars of scholasticism have. Keep in mind that Feser doesn't just boost Aquinas, but skillfully points out the shortcomings of the modern consensus that is hostile to or ignorant of the scholastics altogether, Thomist or not. Having someone argue persuasively that no, these 2000+ year old greeks and centuries old Thomist philosophers still have persuasive things today, still have valid ideas, etc, may not be an explicit endorsement of those other scholastics - but it generates interest. It opens doors that were previously locked or ignored for a lot of people, intellectually.

I'm just one person giving an anecdote, but I can at least offer myself up as someone who was (and is) legitimately interested in Scotus, and who can trace a large part of his interest in Scotus from Ed's influence - hence my past inquiries on your blog. And it's worth remembering the reply that was given when I asked about the practical applications of Scotus' thought in the modern day. It was a polite reply, even fair, but I think it helps illustrate the difference here between where you and Faber aim with your philosophical interests and where Feser aims.

Greg said...

Ordering Ross's translation of On Formal and Universal Unity.

Scott said...

Mine's on the way as well.

Obsidian said...

Off topic but
Dr. Feser , this materialist scientist is saying that a dualist model of the brain would leave "open circuits" and aspects of the brain that would not be able to be explained materially. He says they've mapped the brain in enough detail to know there's nothing non-material needed , while we'd expect some gaps in knowledge if dualism/free will was true.
http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/the-brain-is-not-a-receiver/

How would you respond?

Crude said...

Obsidian,

Dr. Feser , this materialist scientist is saying that a dualist model of the brain would leave "open circuits" and aspects of the brain that would not be able to be explained materially.

Be sure to tell him that if thoughts were material our brains would have to be vastly larger than they are, since the absolute theoretical minimum size that an average 3 second long thought must be if entirely material is around a half inch diameter and three inches long - roundabout the size of a decent vienna sausage. You need that much space to contain all the various information about typical sensations, thoughts, feelings, sound, etc - sound in particular since we now have established upper limits on theoretical compression maximums.

When he inevitably - and right - points out that this is complete bull, tell him that it's likewise bull to talk about the necessity of 'open circuits' as if dualist thoughts were literally radio waves or the like, and that the question of dualism A) isn't restricted to cartesian models, and B) even cartesian models don't require the sort of thing he's talking about. His obection is no better than the sausage objection, just from another direction.

George R. said...

Michael Sullivan writes:
"And I don't accuse Feser himself of triumphalism, but more of that kind of complacency that there's no point in taking non-Thomism seriously. The triumphalism is out there, though, and it's real."

Here's my favorite thomistic triumphalist quote, from French writer Leon Bloy, "In philosophy there is only thomism and bullshitism."

What you and Lee Faber have to do is quit whining like a couple of sissies because people are dissing Scotus, and start introducing into the conversation some cogent arguments that prove the principle scotist theses, so that people might be able to distinguish Scotism from the great "bullshitist" current that has inundated all of academia..

Anonymous said...

@Crude,

Can you provide a reference for your assertion regarding physical requirements for thought? Sounds kind of fishy ...

Crude said...

Anon,

No reference, since it's complete and utter bull made up on the spot. (Hence the start of the second paragraph.)

That was the point - it's no better than talking about how we'd expect the brain to have what amounts to wiring for receipt of dualist radio signals. The author of that blog papers over the problems with the materialist perspective on the brain to put it mildly, and has a kind of cartoony view of dualism. (Made worse by seeming to treat all rejections of materialism as dualism, and specifically a very weird cartesian dualism, and more.)

Tom More said...

I have been enjoying Prof Feser's new book on Scholastic metaphysics immensely. It helps me better appreciate Leon Bloy's comment above. How can a sane person deny essences and continue to use words to do so.

Anonymous said...

Hi Crude,

Sorry, I missed the satire ;-)

I'm curious how the dualist can square the idea that a human brain is incapable of operating without a soul, but primates such as apes or gorillas who (if my reading of this blog over the years is correct) don't have a soul, yet the brain is all they need to thrive. I recognize that those animals don't exhibit the higher mental powers of humans, but they certainly exhibit many qualities associated with higher mental activities (communication, problem solving, etc).

Your thoughts?

Greg said...

but primates such as apes or gorillas who (if my reading of this blog over the years is correct) don't have a soul

You might want to read the relevant posts on this blog/chapters of Feser's books again. On Thomism apes and gorillas have souls. They do not have rational souls, so their souls are not subsistent.

The article you've posted is dealing with Cartesian dualism. That it doesn't apply to Feser's position is evident from the first sentence:

[O]ne common point made to support the dualist position (that the mind is something other than or more than just the functioning of the brain) is that the brain may not be the origin of the mind, but rather is just the receiver.

Well, this isn't a point that Feser makes, nor is it a point that he could make while remaining consistent with his position, because on Thomism the mind is not a separate substance standing apart from the brain and feeding it any sort of information. Feser would, I think, agree that "[the brain-as-mediator model] does not explain the intimate relationship between brain and mind," for Feser gives a hylemorphic analysis of the human person, where body and mind are as intimately related as any form-matter composite. ("Body" does not even correspond so neatly to matter, since the brain's structure is encompassed by form, though it does not exhaust form.)

Greg said...

It's really unfortunate that someone can post that garbage and get over 800 comments. The blogger can't be faulted too much, because he is responding to something that someone said. But that "the brain-as-receiver hypothesis" is considered by anyone as a relevant "challenge" to materialism, as though by challenging materialism one is committed to that nonsense...

Anonymous said...

Hi Greg,

Thanks for the response, I'll go back and do some reading. I've had Dr. Feser's intro to Philophy of Mind on my nightstand for some time but haven't had the time to do it justice.

Daniel said...

Can we go back to talking about Scotus? For a moment it looked as if proper philosophy was pocking its head out of the general sea of Naturalist imbecility...

I suppose a good argument for Scotists not engaging with contemporary thought is that were they to do so they would have to spend at least half their working life quashing stupidities like this from the Coyne/Rosenberg front.

On a different note I think we should invite more Platonists over here as it would lead to far more interesting a valuable intellectual exchanges than the usual 'Darwinism proves thus' intruders. We have Jeremy, whose conversation is much valued, but still I feel we could have more.

On another aside I almost ended up publishing a translation of Monsieur Bloy's conte cruels way back when.

Scott said...

Daniel writes:

"Can we go back to talking about Scotus?"

Sure. Has anybody read this? I ordered a copy because it looked good, but if anyone here is familiar with it, I'd be interested in your opinion of it.

Obsidian said...

Thanks for the response.
I think he was saying mind states are brain states and brain damage affects the mind in a previous post.someone used the TV analogy to respond to him.
Does some of what he says have merit though? Shouldn't there some things the material brain can't do?
I'm a Haskerian emergentist for now. I'll see if Feser's book convinces me.

Glenn said...

Scott,

Has anybody read this?

I have just now read the following excerpt (pp 153-154):

- - - - -

In his Questions on Aristotle's Metaphysics IX, q. 15 [9], Scotus calls the will rational because, according to the Stagirite, rational potencies have contrary effects, while irrational potencies admit of only one effect. In his explanation of this, Scotus differentiates between the intellect and the will, identifying the former as natural (and therefore irrational) and the latter as rational. [10] The intellect is a natural potency precisely because, like the eye in the presence of sufficient external conditions (light, the object, etc.), the intellect cannot fail to know, just as the eye cannot fail to see. And, while the intellect can know one thing rather than another, it cannot refuse to know any particular thing at all in the sense that it cannot stop itself from knowing (again, in the presence of sufficient conditions). The intellect is determined in a way that the will is not, for the will (by contrast) can act or not act at all. Thus, on the basis of their effects, the intellect falls within the category of natural causes. It is, therefore, an irrational potency. The will, on the other hand, is self-determining. [11] Accordingly, the will is the sole rational potency.

Because the will is rational in the manner described above, it is free (indetermined) potency. Quite simply, this means no condition external to the will is sufficient to determine its movement. [12] Indeed, if the intellect alone were to exist without the will, then all would occur naturally or in a determined manner. [13] The intellect and will differ, as natural from rational potencies, insofar as the latter is not determined by external conditions (it moves itself) and the former is determined by such factors beyond itself (it is moved by something else). [14] If the will did not exist, all contingent events would occur after the manner of nature. In other words, given sufficient conditions and in the absence of impediments, events would occur in a predictable and determined manner. More importantly, there would be, he clarifies, "no potency sufficient" to resist or counter the cumulative force of factors surrounding any given event. Because the intellect cannot resist or counter the presence of factors surrounding it, because the intellect is moved by the object it knows and cannot prevent itself from being moved (given the presence of sufficient conditions), it gives no evidence of rationality.

9 ...

10 ...

11 ...

12 ...

13 ...

14 Scotus rejects the Aristotelian maxim that "everything moved is moved by another."... [Apparently: Some things are moved by another, while some things are not; e.g., the intellect is moved by another, while the will is not. – Moi (restating without agreeing)]

- - - - -

Hm...

rank sophist said...

Glenn,

Scotus's voluntarism in a nutshell, although he flip-flopped on his position a bit.

Anonymous said...

Glen --

14 is, of course, the perennial problem of the freedom of the will. We experience that it is a fact, but our metaphysics doesn't allow it. Something must be wrong somewhere in our metaphysics.

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

Perhaps I'm naïve, or dense (or both), but I don't follow: whose metaphysics doesn't allow free will?

It doesn't seem that it can be Scotists (since Scotus holds that the will is free to choose this or that).

And it doesn't seem that it can be Thomists (since Aquinas holds that man is or at least can be rational, "forasmuch as man is rational is it necessary that man have a free-will").

Glenn said...

Rank,

I recall there having been some discussion on voluntarism here quite a while ago. Hopefully, Scotus isn't the only one who flip-flopped on his position a bit. ;)

Anonymous said...


George R.

"What you and Lee Faber have to do is quit whining like a couple of sissies because people are dissing Scotus,...

It is clear that you haven't read the articles at the smithy on the book. Their complaints are about the misleading use of scholasticism to really mean Thomism, the poor structure of some chapters, that Feser presumably asserts some claims without argument and so forth.
It’s not all about Scotism. Stop psychologizing their motivations, writing and acting like a little immature brat. Go and read the articles.

rank sophist said...

Glenn,

The fleshed-out position of Aquinas on free will, which derived from the Islamic tradition of Aristotelian interpretation, was seen by certain other scholastics as being secretly deterministic. It's a very long and complicated debate that stretches back to comments about free will that Augustine made, and it's tragically overlooked by almost everyone now aside from the Radical Orthodox.

Also, with regard to the arguments we engaged in about voluntarism, I have developed my position quite a bit. Not that I've ever been a voluntarist; I've just gotten a better grasp of the nature of reason since then.

Glenn said...

Rank,

It's a very long and complicated debate that stretches back to comments about free will that Augustine made, and it's tragically overlooked by almost everyone now aside from the Radical Orthodox.

If you've any handy references to easily accessible material on the matter, I'd be interested in checking it out. Thanks. (If not, that's okay too.)

I've just gotten a better grasp of the nature of reason since then.

Oh, that has been noticeable. (And if it hadn't been, I wouldn't have ribbed you about it. ;))

Jeremy Taylor said...

Daniel,

Are there many Platonists (in the traditional sense) out there? There are some Platonic writers and thinkers out there, especially those associated with the Temenos Academy or the Perennialists, but the rank and file Platonists are thin on the ground. In fact, apart from Perennialists, there just aren't rank and file Platonists, as there are Thomists, just a few isolated individuals (as far as I'm aware).

Anonymous said...

Glen --

Aquinas asserts that everything moved is moved by anther. But the will moves itself. True, it is informed by the intellects as to possible ends. But the will determines itself in the act of choosing an end, and in implementing that decision.

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

It is true that the will can move itself. But that the will can move itself does not mean that it is never moved by something not itself.

Sil Rayman said...

Guys,

I came across this paper in which West Morriston attempts to refute WLC's assertion that actual infinities don't exist. What is your opinion?

http://spot.colorado.edu/~morristo/craig-on-the-actual-infinite.pdf

John Stamps said...

For rank-and-file Platonists, Eric Perl at Loyola Marymount might count:
http://www.amazon.com/Theophany-Neoplatonic-Philosophy-Dionysius-Areopagite/dp/0791471128

http://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Being-Introduction-Metaphysics-Neoplatonism/dp/9004264205/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1402325961&sr=1-2&keywords=eric+perl

ALSO:
Does Iris Murdoch count as a Platonist?

Anonymous said...

Glen --

True, the will is sometimes moved by another, but that isn't the metaphysical problem, The problem is that sometimes it moves itself as an efficient cause.

Scott said...

@Glenn:

"It is true that the will can move itself."

If that's true, then the will is a counterexample to the principle that anything which is moved is moved by another. Are you sure you want to concede that?

Glenn said...

Scott,

That anything which is moved is moved by another may be taken as a general principle. And it is not infrequently the case that as things become less general and more specific, some of the more specific things may seem anomalous in light of the (so-called) general principle. For example, Aquinas mentions how it is that, yes, the will does move itself (here).

Glenn said...

exAnonymous,

Hadn't Scotus denied -- i.e., argued against -- the will being solely the efficient cause of itself?

Glenn said...

(Not sure how "ex" managed to prefix itself to "Anonymous". (It must've had some help. ;) ))

Scott said...

@Glenn:

And, as Aquinas says in the very next Article, "[E]verything that is at one time an agent actually, and at another time an agent in potentiality, needs to be moved by a mover. … The will moves itself sufficiently in one respect, and in its own order, that is to say as proximate agent; but it cannot move itself in every respect, as we have shown. Wherefore it needs to be moved by another as first mover."

I withdraw my objection; the exception is no exception after all.

"Not sure how 'ex' managed to prefix itself to 'Anonymous'. (It must've had some help. ;) )"

I expect it got some assistance from memories of the discussion of ex-apologist's argument in this recent thread.

Anonymous said...


fScott --

Whether or not I want to concede that, the fact remains that the metaphysical principle ("Everything that moves is moved by another") is inconsistent with the statement of fact "The will moves itself".

I do not know what the solution to that particular problem is. I do know that it is a serious problem, and I must in honesty admit that there is something wrong somewhere in my thinking. Not to admit that my assumptions are contradictory is to be an ideologue, and morally that would show a gross lack of humility.

Anonymous said...

fScott --

Whether or not I want to concede that, the fact remains that the metaphysical principle ("Everything that moves is moved by another") is inconsistent with the statement of fact "The will moves itself".

I do not know what the solution to that particular problem is. I do know that it is a serious problem, and I must in honesty admit that there is something wrong somewhere in my thinking. Not to admit that my assumptions are contradictory is to be an ideologue, and morally that would show a gross lack of humility.

Scott said...

@Anon:

My question was to Glenn, but see the excerpts from Aquinas to which we've linked in the posts just above yours.

Anonymous said...

Glen --

I don't know a lot about Scotus on the will. Don't know much about him, period. I had a course on the medieval Franciscans from Fr. Wolter 50 years ago, and unfortunately, there wasn't enough time to do justice to Scotus:-(

But it's good to see you young ones broadening your interests. Much as I love Thomas, he isn't perfect.

George R. said...

With respect to the text quoted by Glenn outlining Scotus's ideas:

1) The suggestion that the intellect is not rational is silly.

2) The will does not move itself, but is moved by 'the good.'

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

Whether or not I want to concede that, the fact remains that the metaphysical principle ("Everything that moves is moved by another") is inconsistent with the statement of fact "The will moves itself".

I do not know what the solution to that particular problem is. I do know that it is a serious problem, and I must in honesty admit that there is something wrong somewhere in my thinking. Not to admit that my assumptions are contradictory is to be an ideologue, and morally that would show a gross lack of humility.


I appreciate what you are saying here.

However, I wouldn't go so far as to agree that there is necessarily something wrong somewhere in your thinking, and also would note that you do not insist that there isn't a solution to the problem, only that you do not (yet) know what that solution might be.

It is clear that, when placed side-by-side, "everything that moves is moved by another" and "the will moves itself" appear to be contradictories.

But appearance and reality are not necessarily one and the same, and it may be that Aquinas does offer some clarification.

Under the question "Whether God can move the created will", Aquinas has the following as the second objection:

"God cannot make two contradictories to be true at the same time. But this would follow if He moved the will; for to be voluntarily moved means to be moved from within, and not by another. Therefore God cannot move the will."

And his reply to that objection is as follows:

"To be moved voluntarily, is to be moved from within, that is, by an interior principle: yet this interior principle may be caused by an exterior principle; and so to be moved from within is not repugnant to being moved by another."

I don't know whether this might be acceptable to you as a satisfying solution, but possibly it offers some hope that such a solution does exist.

Credo In Unum Deum said...

Anonymous said...
Scotus on the Incarnation -- according to Fr. Wolter, Scotus thought that Jesus chose Incarnation because He wanted to save us and because He wanted to be with us. Beautiful :-)

June 6, 2014 at 8:21 PM

I think you misread something. The whole point of the Absolute Primacy of Christ is that whether or not there was sin, Jesus would have been incarnate (contra Bonaventure and Thomas). This is actually implied by the dogma of the Immaculate Conception (and Eastern Theologians from the same period as Thomas and the Duns worked out the Immaculate Conception similarly). And since "the revered Mother of God, from all eternity joined in a hidden way with Jesus Christ in one and the same decree of predestination" (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xii/apost_constitutions/documents/hf_p-xii_apc_19501101_munificentissimus-deus_en.html) the following seems to be the case: Jesus is willed for the sake of the Father, Mary for the sake of Jesus, and Adam for the sake of Mary. It shouldn't be much terribly longer that St. Thomas' teaching on Our Lady is again rejected by the Church. There is a nice little book on the Franciscan Thesis called A Primer on the Absolute Primacy of Christ".(http://www.amazon.com/Primer-Absolute-Primacy-Christ-Franciscan/dp/1601140401)
And I think there is a very important project being currently undertaken which has uncovered the similarities between the East and West vis-a-vis Scotus. A reunion between the East and West will never come about by Thomists. But Scotus shows us that there may be a way to recognize that some of the disputes are more disputations of language. At any rate, I know one member involved in this enterprise and it seems promising.

dguller said...

Glenn:

"To be moved voluntarily, is to be moved from within, that is, by an interior principle: yet this interior principle may be caused by an exterior principle; and so to be moved from within is not repugnant to being moved by another."

I sympathize with this notion, especially when one takes into consideration that God is both transcendent and immanent in all creation, and thus is always acting from deep within any created entity. However, I think that if God acted from deep within the will to move it towards a particular direction, then even though that movement still occurred within the will, the will’s freedom has been compromised from within by a power other than the will itself, and has become more like a puppet than a free power.

Jeremy Taylor said...

John Stamps,

Well, I took Daniel to mean intelligent contributors to the combox discussions. I can't imagine many published authors would want to be so. That is what I meant by rank and file.

I don't know much about Iris Murdoch, although I've heard of. She seems interesting though.

Glenn said...

dguller,

I think that if God acted from deep within the will to move it towards a particular direction, then even though that movement still occurred within the will, the will’s freedom has been compromised from within by a power other than the will itself, and has become more like a puppet than a free power.

To paraphrase/wordsmith Aquinas' reply to the objection following the one already mentioned...

If the will were so moved by another as in no way to be moved from within itself, then the will would be more like a puppet than a free power. But since its being moved by another does not prevent its being moved from within itself, as has been stated (ad 2), it is not thereby dethroned as a free power nor does it thereby become more like a puppet.

Anonymous said...

Glenn --

I think dguller's response to the Aquinas text you quote is spot on.

It seems to me that Thomas' defense rests on the ambiguity of "interior" principle. My will might be moved by an interior principle that is identical with some part of me (e.g., a desire for a sensory good), but that is not the same sort of "interior" principle that God is insofar as He is present within me as cause of my being.

I tend to see philosophical positions as systems with axioms and theorems and rules of inference. Each person's system is only as good as the truth of his/her axioms. Given the complexity of our personal philosophical systems, it would be astonishing if we had consistent systems.

I expect there to be some errors somewhere in mine (and Aquinas' too -- he isn't God). And our philosophical projects are largely processes of correcting and revising our axioms (which are usually very, very numerous).

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

In reply to the first objection under the question previously mentioned, that imperfect human being otherwise known as, e.g., Aquinas wrote,

"A thing moved by another is forced if moved against its natural inclination; but if it is moved by another giving to it the proper natural inclination, it is not forced... God, while moving the will, does not force it, because He gives the will its own natural inclination."

Two questions:

1) In what way is that inconsistent with Aquinas' overall 'system'?

2) How does that lend support to the “spot on” notion that God in moving the created will comprises that will as a free power and demotes it to the status of "puppet"?

Glenn said...

(s/b "...the purportedly 'spot on' notion...")

Daniel said...

Apologies for the late reply everyone,

Regarding Platonists, I pretty much mean anyone who would come here and espouse that position. I have great respect for Ed and Thomism in general, but do not consider it a ‘final philosophy’ if such a thing exists, and am convinced there is much to be gained from ‘inter-classical dialogue’ as it were.

I am not sure of the status of Platonism within mainstream academia to be honest – I think it more common than it used to be due to the increased interest in the question of the ontological status of Number. Historically we’ve had A. E. Taylor, George Parkin Grant, Richard Weaver and a lot of German scholars, and at the present day there’s Mark Anderson, Giovanni Reale and Gary Rosenkratz to name those who come to mind immediately. A number of Straussians identify as Platonists, though with a lower case ‘p’ and in a manner I do not trust. More promisingly a lot of Realist Phenomenologists are Platonists of an Augustinian sort.

The Brill Academic series ‘Studies in Platonism, Neoplatonism, and the Platonic Tradition’ which John Stamps kindly recommended is well worth a look. I note that one of the most interesting titles, The Syntax of Time, is available over the German Amazon for €28, over a hundred euros cheaper than cover price.

http://www.brill.com/publications/studies-platonism-neoplatonism-and-platonic-tradition

http://www.amazon.de/gp/offer-listing/9004147128/ref=dp_olp_used?ie=UTF8&condition=used

dguller said...

Glenn:

If the will were so moved by another as in no way to be moved from within itself, then the will would be more like a puppet than a free power. But since its being moved by another does not prevent its being moved from within itself, as has been stated (ad 2), it is not thereby dethroned as a free power nor does it thereby become more like a puppet.

I think that the important distinction here is whether the external mover is sufficient to cause the will to choose X, or not. If the former, then I don’t see any way in which the will can be construed as free. Even though the mover is acting from within the will, the choice being made is not the will’s at all, but rather is due to the causal efficacy of the external mover enforcing its will upon the will from within. If the latter, then perhaps the external mover is nudging the will from within to make a particular choice, but the will still retains enough power to agree or disagree with the nudge. However, the problem with this solution is that is presupposes a temporal gap between the external mover nudging the will from within and the will itself agreeing to move in the direction of the nudge or to resist moving in that direction. Unfortunately, Aquinas specifically denies that there is such a temporal gap at all at ST 1a.113.7 when he writes that “the justification of the ungodly is not successive, but instantaneous”. In other words, at the very moment when the external mover nudges the will from within towards a particular direction, there is simply no time for the will to affirm or reject the external influence at all, which makes the nudge itself sufficient to cause the will’s movement, and thus utterly compromising its freedom.

Tom said...

Considering the subject of the post, this seems as good a place as any to mention Will Duquette's review of Scholastic Metaphysics over at Patheos: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crywoof/2014/06/review-scholastic-metaphysics-by-ed-feser/

With respect to Aquinas' position on free will, he seems to be a maddening mix of compatibilism and libertarianism, and he further seems to flip between the two, making it all particularly confounding. And saying that the will(not Duquette) can move itself opens the door to arguments based on Hume and quantum physics(!), but clarifying that God still has to underlie it just seems to beg the question against them, since whether God has to underlie any of this is precisely what is at issue.

Glenn said...

dguller,

I think that the important distinction here is whether the external mover is sufficient to cause the will to choose X, or not. If the former, then I don't see any way in which the will can be construed as free...

The relevant distinction is:

"A thing moved by another is forced if moved against its natural inclination; but if it is moved by another giving to it the proper natural inclination, it is not forced."

Now, if external mover is sufficient to cause the will to choose X, then there are two possibilities: a) the will's choice of X is against its natural inclination; and, b) the will's choice of X is not against its natural inclination. Re the former, the will is forced; and re the latter, the will is not forced.

Of course, you say "is sufficient to cause", which may not be quite the same thing as "is a sufficient cause". But even if you mean the latter, i.e., even if you mean that the movement of an external mover is a sufficient cause (i.e., a cause in the presence of which something else cannot fail to occur), then the will moves towards X without actually choosing X. This is fine, for the relevant distinction still applies.

However, the problem with this solution is that is presupposes a temporal gap between the external mover nudging the will from within and the will itself agreeing to move in the direction of the nudge or to resist moving in that direction. Unfortunately, Aquinas specifically denies that there is such a temporal gap at all at ST 1a.113.7 when he writes that "the justification of the ungodly is not successive, but instantaneous".

It doesn't matter that justification itself is instantaneous. No one is justified against their will, i.e., no one is justified who isn't inclined to that end. So, once again, the relevant distinction applies.

In other words, at the very moment when the external mover nudges the will from within towards a particular direction, there is simply no time for the will to affirm or reject the external influence at all, which makes the nudge itself sufficient to cause the will's movement, and thus utterly compromising its freedom.

Yet again, the relevant distinction applies.

- - - - -

Side bar: Speaking metaphorically, and in light of the relevant distinction, I for one am hard pressed to see how it may be legitimately said of this scene either that De Niro compromises Gooding's will or that De Niro makes Gooding's will a puppet of his own will. (Pardon my saying so, but If you are inclined to get to the most relevant portion of the scene, then you will skip ahead to 4:10.)

Michael Sullivan said...

Credo:

And I think there is a very important project being currently undertaken which has uncovered the similarities between the East and West vis-a-vis Scotus. A reunion between the East and West will never come about by Thomists. But Scotus shows us that there may be a way to recognize that some of the disputes are more disputations of language. At any rate, I know one member involved in this enterprise and it seems promising.

I've maintained for years that Bonaventure and Scotus, not Thomas, hold the key to rapprochement with the East. That is of far more interest to me than proving that Scotus is a better club than Thomas to beat atheists with.

Not that I don't think refuting atheists and showing the superiority of Thomism or other scholasticisms to modern scientism, etc., is an unworthy project. It's just not the project I'm most interested in, and not all scholastic philosophy should be judged by its usefulness for that project.

Prince Randoms said...

I'll take a shot at modern philosophers who use Platonism in a contemporary fashion. The Anglican Church seems to be in a Platonic mood with the movement titeled Radical Orthodoxy ( my Orthodox convert friend laughed a lot at this)

John Milbank is the founder and others include Catherine Moody and Connor Cunningham.

Prince Randoms said...

Ah. Wrong Catherine. It's Catherine Pickstock. Also wiki lists Grahm Ward.

dguller said...

Glenn:

Now, if external mover is sufficient to cause the will to choose X, then there are two possibilities: a) the will's choice of X is against its natural inclination; and, b) the will's choice of X is not against its natural inclination. Re the former, the will is forced; and re the latter, the will is not forced.

I don’t think that will work, though. If the fundamental distinction is whether a will is caused to choose its natural inclination or not, then what does it matter whether the cause is external or internal to the will? If the cause is external, and the will is made to choose its natural inclination, then why say that it is coerced? After all, it was simply helped to do what it actually and truly wanted to do anyway. For example, if a priest forces a person to attend church to get closer to God, then would you say that the person was not coerced by the priest, because that person’s ultimate desire is to achieve the Beatific Vision, whether they know it or not? It seems that, under this account, coercion is impossible if the will is moved to choose its natural end. To me, for better or for worse, that seems the very antithesis of freedom, which is precisely that the individual themselves decides what to do, even if that choice is detrimental to their overall well-being and in violation of the optimal functioning of their intellect and will.

dguller said...

Michael Sullivan:

I've maintained for years that Bonaventure and Scotus, not Thomas, hold the key to rapprochement with the East.

Bonaventure I can see, but Scotus’ doctrine of the univocity of being seems to be something that the more mystically inclined East would balk at endorsing, given its potential to put God and creation under the same ontological framework, and make God more comprehensible than necessary. But I could be wrong.

George R. said...

Michael Sullivan:
"I've maintained for years that Bonaventure and Scotus, not Thomas, hold the key to rapprochement with the East."

I agree. If you want to reconcile contradictory positions, you need a sophistical philosophy.

Glenn said...

dguller,

If the fundamental distinction is whether a will is caused to choose its natural inclination or not...

Perhaps you will rephrase this, that I might better understand its supposed relevance to the conversation.

Anonymous said...

Is it as contradictory as calling oneself a Catholic and a sedevacantist?

Michael Sullivan said...

George R.,

You've already demonstrated to my satisfaction that there's no point interacting with you. I'm going to continue to operate on that presumption.

Daniel said...

The good thing about being a Bonaventurian is that one need not feel uncomfortable about endorsing the Kalam Cosmological Argument and even the Ontological Argument.

On a serious note I think Bonaventure’s metaphysics and theory of knowledge have a lot to give towards positive philosophical advancement. In both Aristotle and Thomas there is still an element of brute undigested Empiricism (by this I mean a tendency to reduce Given experience to mere sense date; I do not of course deny all cognition begins with experience or even that sense experience is the doorway to higher order experience) which I believe the Intuitive theory of Bonaventure and the Phenomenological concept of Categorical Intuition can help overcome.

The Radical Orthodox are indeed heavily Plato influenced and have produced interesting critiques of modern Continental philosophy based upon it. Unfortunately their knowledge of historical matters is less than perfect, particularly where Scotus is concerned.

To Hell with anti-Scotus trolls!

Scott said...

@Daniel:

"The good thing about being a Bonaventurian is that one need not feel uncomfortable about endorsing the Kalam Cosmological Argument and even the Ontological Argument."

I know you're joking, but you can endorse either of those arguments even if you're a Thomist—as long as you're not a "groupie" who thinks Thomas was simply spot-on about everything, no matter now non-central. You just have to take his views into account and say why you think he was mistaken or his replies were incomplete.

Scott said...

@Daniel:

"To Hell with anti-Scotus trolls!"

Here again, I know you're joking, but why would we wish anyone to Hell even as a joke?

George R. said...

You've already demonstrated to my satisfaction that there's no point interacting with you. I'm going to continue to operate on that presumption.

If I've "demonstrated" it, Michael, why do you call it a "presumption"? Freudian slip?

Dave said...

Mr. Feser or anyone on this combox.
Is atheism a belief?

In class I got bashed by students and my professor for saying atheism is a belief about the nature of reality.

I was 'corrected' by my professor who said, "theism is a belief; atheism is a conclusion."

I said, "how can't the reverse of that be true? If we're just going to play word games can't I just as easily say 'theism is a conclusion and atheism is a belief'?"

I got laughed at... which is fine.
But his response was "in a debate that might be a clever play on words, but it's clearly wrong"

I read that beliefs are simply representational states of 'how things are'.

Prince Randoms said...

If it's clearly wrong it should be clearly demonstratable, no?
You can't just state things.

I would say it's a belief in the sense that it takes a position that has epistemological weight.

I could accept "it's a conclusion" if he means that "having accepted this metaphysical proposition, it is necessary to conclude the lack of God" In other words,I accept that Scientism is true, thus I have to conclude that atheism is true.

Greg said...

Isn't a conclusion a belief?

Theists have historically claimed to have demonstrated their position. One could say that they merely have belief because their conclusions for whatever reason don't follow. But that's just to say that one regards theists as wrong, and there would then be no reason theists shouldn't take the same attitude toward atheists.

Dave said...

I don't even want to be difficult, but I can't wrap my head around it.

Unless they were talking about something like the level of certainty with which one holds a particular thought.
That atheism is of such a degree of certainty... so much higher than theism that it's in a different class.

But even in thinking of this I stumble on the whole "but not all beliefs have the same level of certainty.... that doesn't mean one is no longer a belief. It's still a belief, but just one you have a higher degree of certainty in".
So.... they're all still just beliefs.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Dave,

They were just begging the question by suggesting theism is based on non-rational belief whereas atheism is the conclusion of a rational argument.

You get this a lot from those who know little about the history of religious thought.

In epistemology belief is often used to mean any claim of knowledge, which means both atheism and theism are based on belief in this sense. Otherwise, they can both claim to be as much based on a conclusion as each other. It is at least up to the atheist to show how his position is a rational conclusion and the theist's is an unsupported belief.

rank sophist said...

Glenn,

I don't know of any clear-cut summaries of the voluntarist debate, unfortunately. And, as Daniel said, the Radical Orthodox writers who do cover Scotus often get him wrong. John Milbank in particular tries to make Scotus the fall guy for every modern evil, even though Scotus's worst ideas were generally borrowed from earlier writers.

Mr. Green said...

Dave: Is atheism a belief?

Well, that's a tough one. It certainly can be, but as your professor demonstrates, sometimes it's just a pathological neurosis.

Anonymous said...

In considering the freedom of the will, it seems to me that we have to remember that there several kinds of causes involved. First, there is the form of the desired reality, second, there is that form as being-attractive-to the will (final causality), third, there is the will as efficient cause of the choice to seek the object and as the agency that moves the subject (he who wills) to posses the object.

The will cannot but help love the form/final cause. It is predetermined by its very nature to love all goos. But it can independently choose whether to try to possess it, and it can independently be the efficient cause of the motion to posses the object. It is that agency that is at issue in the problem of the freedom of the will. The agency is free, though the form/final cause attract necessarily.

By the way, I"m Anonymous 2.

Daniel said...

@Scott,

'I know you're joking, but you can endorse either of those arguments even if you're a Thomist'

Of course! Which is broadly what I'd identify as doing. And both Feser and Oderberg champion the Kalam Argument. I do feel aggrieved about how these and other arguments received such breezy dismissals from the writers of the Neo-Scholastic era (right up to trying to enshrine a rejection of the Ontological Argument in the XXII Thomistic Theses). Even now I think some Thomists display a negative knee-jerk reaction when confronted with the Ontological Argument – David Braine is a case in point.

On a more serious note: I do find that a number of recent Thomist writers give the impression that Thomism is a finished philosophy, and the main task of a modern Thomist is defending it against contemporary objections. In Thomas’ work there is a wonderful openness towards Being, towards the world and knowledge (one only has to think of his asides on medicine and the effects of the heavenly bodies on terrestrial nature): though nearly two millennia separate them Thomas still possesses that intellectual candour which characterise the best of the classical philosophers. When it comes to the Neo-Scholastics that’s all changed: Maritian and Gilson are of the age of Marx.

"To Hell with anti-Scotus trolls!"

Well, it wasn’t specifically directed at anyone but I thought the fellow above’s post bizarrely bellicose (again, nothing against him in himself and if I have given particular offence I apologise). At this point in history the Scotist v. Thomist thing does seem rather like the rivalry between the egg societies in Swift.

Daniel said...

For good or for ill, I think a lot of the negative elements in later Scholasticism can be traced back to certain lines of Augustine’s thought. This is in no way to decry Augustine, he was a genius philosopher, the most original yet after Aristotle, but one could say that both the success and the ruin of subsequent Catholic philosophy were already latent in his works. Possibly a controversial topic but the high medievals seem to me to express a far more tranquil and well-founded spirituality than that which went before: the existential unease some of the Fathers expressed towards the world had vanished, replaced by the realisation that for us God is to be found in Eternity and not in an imminent immanent temporal eschaton.

dguller said...

Glenn:

Perhaps you will rephrase this, that I might better understand its supposed relevance to the conversation.

Your earlier comments seemed to imply that if God moved the will from within towards its natural end, then the will cannot be thought to be coerced, but if God moved the will from within away from its natural end, then that could be thought to be coercion. My comment simply brought out the implicit logic of your claim out in the open for further discussion. In other words, coercion now seems to be defined as occurring when the will is moved away from its natural end, irrespective of whether that motion is due to an external or internal cause. And if that is true, then there are a number of counterexamples to this position, such as the one that I cited involving the priest forcing a person to attend church.

According to my understanding, freedom of the will necessarily requires that the will can choose actions that are, in reality, contrary to its natural end. If the will is moved from within to exclude this possibility, then the will is not free at all, but rather only has the appearance of freedom.

dguller said...

Dave:

theism is a belief; atheism is a conclusion

I think that what he meant was that theism is a mere “belief” or opinion, i.e. ungrounded and unsupported by objective facts and arguments, whereas atheism is grounded and supported by objective facts and arguments (i.e. is “a conclusion”). In other words, it is the equivalent of Plato’s distinction between belief (i.e. doxa) and knowledge (i.e. episteme) such that theism is doxa and atheism is episteme.

dguller said...

Anonymous 2:

In considering the freedom of the will, it seems to me that we have to remember that there several kinds of causes involved. First, there is the form of the desired reality, second, there is that form as being-attractive-to the will (final causality), third, there is the will as efficient cause of the choice to seek the object and as the agency that moves the subject (he who wills) to posses the object.

Okay.

The will cannot but help love the form/final cause. It is predetermined by its very nature to love all goos. But it can independently choose whether to try to possess it, and it can independently be the efficient cause of the motion to posses the object. It is that agency that is at issue in the problem of the freedom of the will. The agency is free, though the form/final cause attract necessarily.

Agreed, but the issue is how grace fits into this picture. Grace is (a) always operative within the will, (b) simultaneous with the choice of the will, and (c) a cause of the movement of the will. Given (a), (b) and (c), a number of questions pose themselves. If grace is a divine cause that moves the will towards its natural end, i.e. God himself as the Good, then how can the will deviate from this end through its choices at all? In other words, is grace a determinate and sufficient cause of the will or not?

If it is, then the will is no longer free, because the choice to love God is due to God’s choice to bestow grace, and not from the person, which is essentially carried along the wave of grace towards its destination.

If it is not, then it must be possible for the will to freely choose to reject grace. However, for that to be possible, there must be a temporal gap between the infusion of grace into the will and the will’s subsequent choice to accept or reject grace, and the problem is that Aquinas has argued for (b), i.e. the simultaneity of grace and choice. Thus, if there is no temporal gap, then the infusion of grace and the choice of the will are essentially one and the same act, and it is impossible for the will to reject grace at all, which nullifies the freedom of the will. And if that is true and (a) is true, then how is it possible that there are any unbelievers at all? The fact that there are unbelievers must mean that (a) is not true, and thus God is selective of who receives grace, and since grace is never earned by human beings, it follows that God is being unfair by selectively deciding who will believe in him and who will not.

Glenn said...

dguller,

According to my understanding, freedom of the will necessarily requires that the will can choose actions that are, in reality, contrary to its natural end.

I'll agree.

If the will is moved from within to exclude this possibility, then the will is not free at all, but rather only has the appearance of freedom.

I may agree or disagree, depending on what you mean by "exclude this possibility".

If by "exclude this possibility" you mean that the will is never allowed to choose an action contrary to its natural end, i.e., is always kept from choosing an action contrary to it natural end, then I'll agree that the will is not free at all.

But if by "exclude this possibility" you mean that although the will is allowed to choose actions contrary to its natural end, it is sometimes kept from doing so, then I'll disagree that the will is not free at all.

dguller said...

Glenn:

But if by "exclude this possibility" you mean that although the will is allowed to choose actions contrary to its natural end, it is sometimes kept from doing so, then I'll disagree that the will is not free at all.

But if the will is “kept from doing so” by something other than itself, then it is not following its own intrinsic determinations, but rather is being blocked from doing so, and thus is being coerced. The whole point of the intrinsic versus extrinsic issue is that the will must make its determinations based upon its own activity of pursuing its understanding of the good, and nothing else. Whether something other than the will is operating from outside the will or inside the will is a moot point, because this “something” is other than the will, and thus is forcing the will to make a particular choice by blocking or excluding certain possibilities from its purview. For example, if a parent deliberately excludes options A and B, and leaves only C, for their children, then they are coercing their children to choose C, because the children did not choose to avoid A and B, but rather had that choice taken away from them by their parents. I see the same process unfolding in your account.

Glenn said...

dguller,

But if the will is "kept from doing so" by something other than itself, then it is not following its own intrinsic determinations,

Are you suggesting that it's natural inclination is not an "intrinsic determination"?

Glenn said...

Rank,

Okay, thanks for your time and attention to the question. My sudden curiosity re the Radical Orthodox mainly has to do with how they arrive at the conclusion that Aquinas' position on free-will is, when fleshed-out, deterministic. I'll poke around and see what I can I find. Thanks again.

Glenn said...

dguller,

For example, if a parent deliberately excludes options A and B, and leaves only C, for their children, then they are coercing their children to choose C, because the children did not choose to avoid A and B, but rather had that choice taken away from them by their parents.

If you mean to say that we can learn something about a person from the way he tends to characterize things, then I'll agree.

dguller said...

Glenn:

Are you suggesting that it's natural inclination is not an "intrinsic determination"?

I think it’s natural inclination is an intrinsic determination, but the will also has the capacity to choose what is against its objective interests, and it is precisely the latter that is the mark of a free will. Every other being that lacks an intellect and will has an automatic tendency towards its natural inclination, and is only thwarted by external factors that impede or obstruct its achievement of its natural end. However, beings with intellect and will are different, because they have an intrinsic power to deliberately direct themselves towards actions that impede their achievement of their natural end. And free will is precisely this power, and anything that interferes or obstructs its operations should be construed as coercive, even if that interference leads to an achievement of the person’s objective well-being.

If you mean to say that we can learn something about a person from the way he tends to characterize things, then I'll agree.

You lost me. I'm often not intelligent enough to know when you are being snarky and when you are being genuine.

Glenn said...

dguller,

the will also has the capacity to choose what is against its objective interests

Yes.

However, beings with intellect and will are different, because they have an intrinsic power to deliberately direct themselves towards actions that impede their achievement of their natural end. And free will is precisely this power,

No.

While free-will does include that power, it is not precisely that power.

If it were, then no being with intellect and will choosing to act in a manner conducive to the achievement of its natural end would be acting freely in making that choice.

But some people do freely act in a manner conducive to said achievement.

And such people are not just rational beings, but are truly rational in their being.

Glenn said...

dguller,

>>> For example, if a parent deliberately excludes options A and B, and leaves only C, for their children, then they are coercing their children to choose C, because the children did not choose to avoid A and B, but rather had that choice taken away from them by their parents.

>> If you mean to say that we can learn something about a person from the way he tends to characterize things, then I'll agree.

> You lost me.

Let me put it this way: I'd not be alive today, or at least not both alive and relatively intact, had my parents not been assiduously "coercive". But I don't think of them as having been "coercive", never mind assiduously so, but as having done at least a half-way decent job of protecting me from myself. And I think there are good reasons to believe that that is similarly true for many others.

dguller said...

Glenn:

No.

While free-will does include that power, it is not precisely that power.

If it were, then no being with intellect and will choosing to act in a manner conducive to the achievement of its natural end would be acting freely in making that choice.

But some people do freely act in a manner conducive to said achievement.

And such people are not just rational beings, but are truly rational in their being.


No. Free will is the power to choose an action that is perceived to be in one’s best interests, i.e. conducive to the achievement of the natural end of the person. Certainly, that perception may be incorrect due to a distortion in the intellect or the will itself, which would mean that the will freely chose an action that was objectively defective with respect to achieving its natural end, but that does not diminish the will’s choice as free at all. We can certainly say that the will made a bad choice, but that is not the same as saying that the will was not free. In fact, as long as the choice was exclusively caused by the will itself, and was not caused by something other than the will, irrespective of whether that something other than the will was acting external to the will or internal to the will, then the will is free.

This requires some clarification with respect to causing the will, because there are different causes. Material causes have no place here. Efficient causes are clearly coercive. Final causes are not coercive, because they are precisely what the will is aiming to achieve in its choices, and constitutes what a will is. That leaves formal causes, and the question is whether God can formally cause the will to make a choice while retaining the will’s freedom. I think that if God changes the form of the will, then the will itself has changed into something else, and this new version of the will is such that certain choices are excluded as possible options. This transformation of the will does inhibit its freedom by restricting its possible choices, even if those restricted choices, if acted upon, would be detrimental to the person’s well-being.

Let me put it this way: I'd not be alive today, or at least not both alive and relatively intact, had my parents not been assiduously "coercive". But I don't think of them as having been "coercive", never mind assiduously so, but as having done at least a half-way decent job of protecting me from myself. And I think there are good reasons to believe that that is similarly true for many others.

But you are conflating two different issues: freedom and well-being. I agree that often a person’s freedom must be curtailed for their overall well-being, which is precisely what a good parent will do for their children. But I am under no illusions that the children’s freedom has been inhibited by their parents, even if they are better off because of it. So, if you want to say that God interferes with our freedom by the act of grace for our own best interests, then I have no problem with that, but if you want to say that he has not interfered with our freedom at all in such a scenario, then I have to disagree with you.

Glenn said...

dguller,

How do you square this,

I agree that often a person’s freedom must be curtailed for their overall well-being, which is precisely what a good parent will do for their children. But I am under no illusions that the children’s freedom has been inhibited by their parents, even if they are better off because of it.

...with your earlier,

transformation of the will does inhibit its freedom by restricting its possible choices, even if those restricted choices, if acted upon, would be detrimental to the person’s well-being.

That is...

If a child's choices can be limited (i.e., restricted) via curtailment without inhibiting that child's freedom, why is God limiting (i.e., restricting) our choices -- as you suggest He does via a bestowal of grace -- not likewise not an inhibiting of our freedom?

dguller said...

Glenn:

If a child's choices can be limited (i.e., restricted) via curtailment without inhibiting that child's freedom, why is God limiting (i.e., restricting) our choices -- as you suggest He does via a bestowal of grace -- not likewise not an inhibiting of our freedom?

I never said that limiting the child’s choices was not inhibiting their freedom. That’s why I wrote that “transformation of the will does inhibit its freedom by restricting its possible choices”. I don’t see any inconsistency between the two statements of mine that you cited.

Glenn said...

(s/b "That is (and to flip it around)...")

Glenn said...

dguller,

I never said that limiting the child’s choices was not inhibiting their freedom.

Regarding parents curtailing the freedom of a child, you wrote, "I am under no illusions that the children’s freedom has been inhibited by their parents."

Are you now saying that you had meant to say, "That the children's freedom has been inhibited by their parents is not an illusion"?

Glenn said...

dguller,

Perhaps we have gotten to a point where we're starting to talk past one another. If so, it may be a good idea for us to take a break. (Blisters are starting to form on my finger-tips, so I for one will benefit from a break.)

Scott said...

@Glenn:

"Regarding parents curtailing the freedom of a child, you wrote, 'I am under no illusions that the children’s freedom has been inhibited by their parents.'"

I understand the confusion here and I had to read dguller's statement twice myself. But I took him to mean, "I am under no illusions about the fact that the children's freedom has been inhibited by their parents."

dguller said...

Glenn:

Are you now saying that you had meant to say, "That the children's freedom has been inhibited by their parents is not an illusion"?

Yes.

Perhaps we have gotten to a point where we're starting to talk past one another. If so, it may be a good idea for us to take a break. (Blisters are starting to form on my finger-tips, so I for one will benefit from a break.)

I don’t think that we are talking past each other. I actually think that we are narrowing in on the fundamental differences between us. However, in deference to the well-being of your fingertips, we can continue to discussion at a later date. :)

Scott:

That's exactly what I was trying to say, however ineffectually.

Glenn said...

Scott,

Thanks for your input.

Glenn said...

dguller,

Now that that seems to be cleared up, I think I understand how your earlier statement re the will being caused to choose its natural inclination is relevant to the conversation: you had actually meant to speak of the will being caused to choose an act in keeping with its natural inclination.

Okay, fine.

Two questions:

1. Does the following statement from your last lengthy reply to me accurately reflect what you meant to say: "Efficient causes are clearly coercive"?

2. Am I correct in understanding your position to be: if there is something coercive involved in the will's choice of an act, or in the will being caused to choose an act, that the will's freedom is thereby compromised, inhibited or otherwise interfered with, and so the will only appears to be free, but really isn't free?

dguller said...

Glenn:

1. Does the following statement from your last lengthy reply to me accurately reflect what you meant to say: "Efficient causes are clearly coercive"?

Yes.

2. Am I correct in understanding your position to be: if there is something coercive involved in the will's choice of an act, or in the will being caused to choose an act, that the will's freedom is thereby compromised, inhibited or otherwise interfered with, and so the will only appears to be free, but really isn't free?

Yes. To be truly free would mean that those other possible choices were available to the will. If they are blocked by another agent, then the will’s space of possible choices has been restricted, and thus its freedom has been constrained, which is coercion.

dguller said...

Glenn:

Here’s another way of putting my point. I endorse the following principles:

(P1) A will W is free to choose to do X iff X is a real possibility for W to choose

(P2) A will W is free not to choose X iff X is a real possibility for W to choose

It follows from (P1) and (P2) that if X is not a real possibility for W to choose, then W is neither free to choose X nor free not to choose X. For example, if a parent prevents a child from driving a car by withholding the car keys, then the child’s will is not free to choose to drive the car or to choose not to drive the car. The choice has been made by the child’s parent and not by the child themselves.

Glenn said...

dguller,

Thanks for the responses.

According to my understanding of Aquinas (which understanding may be inaccurate (or, worse, completely wrong)), free-will has less to do with whether the space of possible choices is constrained or not (or to what extent, if it is), and more to do with the will obeying or disobeying what is, let me say, proposed by the reason for it, the will, to do.

If my understand of Aquinas is correct, then, in the context of a fully functioning free-will, the space of possible choices always consists of exactly two choices -- to accede or not to accede.

Glenn said...

(This is a tab bit more lucid: "...let me say, proposed to it by the reason.")

dguller said...

Glenn:

If my understand of Aquinas is correct, then, in the context of a fully functioning free-will, the space of possible choices always consists of exactly two choices -- to accede or not to accede.

My only addition to that fine account is that to accede to X or not to accede to X presupposes that X is a real and genuine possibility for the will to choose. If X is blocked or eliminated from the realm of possibility, then one can neither accede to X nor not accede to X. For example, it is impossible for me to grow wings and fly, and thus it makes no sense to say (a) that I can accede to growing wings and flying, and (b) that I can not accede to growing wings and flying. Growing wings and flying must be within my power, i.e. an action that I can possibly choose to do. Similarly, if God has restricted an action from my power by his grace, then that action is no longer a real possibility for my will, and thus I can choose neither to accept nor reject that action, because it is outside the power of my will altogether, which makes it a form of coercion.

Glenn said...

Why would you want to complain about not being able to choose to do what is impossible for you to do? More interestingly, why would you want to complain that you can't choose to not do what is impossible for you to do?

Surely there are better ways to entertain oneself. (Or maybe not; I wouldn't know -- I don't live in Canada! ;))

dguller said...

Glenn:

Why would you want to complain about not being able to choose to do what is impossible for you to do? More interestingly, why would you want to complain that you can't choose to not do what is impossible for you to do?

The point is that the free choice to do X or not to do X presupposes the possibility of doing X. If doing X is impossible, then the will is not free to choose do X or not to do X. So, if God’s grace removes doing X from the power of the will to do, then the will is not free to choose to do X or not to do X. And since coercion is the delimiting of the power of the will to choose an action, then God’s grace should be considered a form of coercion, because doing X is not actually something that the will chose to avoid, but rather by having that possibility removed from the power of the will, the will was coerced by something other than the will towards not doing X. Again, it may be in a person’s best interests for this to occur, but this should not be misconstrued as a free choice.

Glenn said...

Okay, I see what you're saying. I think. Your 'complaining', if we may loosely call it that, would be about having the power or ability to do something, but that something is not available, or, more egregiously, has been either taken away or otherwise rendered unavailable to you.

This reminds me of the time not long ago when Hostess Inc. closed down due to bankruptcy, and I could no longer purchase Twinkies. I had the power to purchase them, but could not act on or from that power because Twinkies no longer were available. It was a most difficult time in my life, I'll admit. And I suppose I'd even be willing to admit, to some extent anyway, that my will had been "coerced", at least in the sense that it had become impossible for me to exercise my power to purchase Twinkies by actually going out and purchasing those Napoleon wannabes.

I'm making light of the matter, to be sure, but I'll stop doing that right now.

Recidivism, e.g., is possible even after grace has been bestowed/received. And that wouldn't be possible if the power to return to making the kind of choices one used to make had been taken away. So, even if certain choices are, in a sense, "taken away", the power itself to make them most definitely is not.

Scott said...

@dguller:

"[I]f you want to say that God interferes with our freedom by the act of grace for our own best interests, then I have no problem with that, but if you want to say that he has not interfered with our freedom at all in such a scenario, then I have to disagree with you."

I think the more or less official reply on this point is that divine grace makes it possible for us to choose salvation, not impossible for us not to.

Anonymous said...

"Grace is (a) always operative within the will, (b) simultaneous with the choice of the will, and (c) a cause of the movement of the will."

dguller --

Does Aquinas say that grace is initially presented to us "within" the will? As I understand it, grace is offered to the person -- made present in consciousness -- without the grace initially acting upon the will. The will must choose to accept the grace and be energized (so to speak) by it.

That certainly matches my experience -- at times I'm aware of the presence within myself of an added power to do a much needed good, and I'm also conscious of choosing *not* tp accept the grace, often with the excuse, "Thanks, Lord, but not yet, maybe next time").

Glenn said...

A summary of some things:

1. It is not a secret that it might seem to someone that by divine help some external compulsion to good action is exercised on man. Indeed, to be drawn, to be led, and to be pressed seem to imply coaction. But that this is not true is clearly shown:

o Divine providence provides for all things according to their measure. But it is proper to man to act voluntarily and to control his own acts. But coercion is contrary to this. Therefore, God by His help does not force men to right action.

o Man reaches his ultimate end by acts of the virtues. Now, forced acts are not acts of the virtues, since the main thing in virtue is choice, which cannot be present without voluntariness. Therefore, man is not divinely compelled to act rightly.

o The ultimate end which is felicity is appropriate only to voluntary agents, who are masters of their acts. Therefore, the help that is divinely given men to attain felicity is not coercive.

(The link at the head of this point ought to be consulted for a proper, non-wordsmithed version.)


2. Likewise, it is not a secret that men are able to sin after receiving sacramental grace:

o Although grace is bestowed upon men by the sacraments previously mentioned, men are not thereby rendered incapable of sin.

o Gratuitous gifts are received in the soul as habitual dispositions. But it is not always the case that a man acts according to those gifts, for nothing stops him who has a habit from acting in accord with the habit or against it. To wit, a grammarian can in accord with grammar speak rightly, or even against grammar speak awkwardly. It is also like this with the habits of the moral virtues, for one who has the habit of justice can also act against justice. Why? Because the use of habits in us depends on the will, and the will is related to each of two opposites. It is clear, then, that he who receives gratuitous gifts can sin by acting against grace.

o So long as a man can be altered in the soul’s passions, he can also be altered in vice and virtue. But alteration in the soul’s passions is not taken away by the grace conferred in the sacraments, for such alteration persists in a man as long as the soul is united to the body, which is capable of passion. It is clear, then, that the sacramental grace does not render a man impeccable.

(Again, the link at the head of this point ought to be consulted for a proper, non-wordsmithed version.)


3. An objection, and a reply.

Objection: But 2. has to do with sacramental grace. What about non-sacramental grace?

Reply: See 1. above.

Glenn said...

And a summary of the summary, i.e., that which Scott already has said and under which the above may be subsumed:

"...divine grace makes it possible for us to choose salvation, not impossible for us not to."

dguller said...

Glenn:

Just to make sure I understand, I’ll summarize what I think that you and Scott are saying.

Aquinas writes that “man's soul is moved by God to know or will or do something” (ST 1a.110.2). Since all movement is such that a potency is actualized, the question is what potency is actualized with the infusion of grace. Seemingly, the potency would be the power to freely choose to know and love God, which remains in potency while human nature is tainted by sin, and cannot be actualized by any finite created being, thus requiring that “some supernatural form and perfection must be superadded to man whereby he may be ordered suitably to the aforesaid end” (SCG 3.150.5). However, with grace, this power in potency becomes a power in act, and thus becomes available for the person to use. So, with grace, a person can actually freely choose to know and love God, and without grace, this power remains dormant and obstructed by sin. Under this account, I don’t see any coercion, because it seems that grace does not eliminate any possible choice(s), but rather through the actualization of a power, in fact, ends up increasing the range of possible choices to include the choice to know and love God.

In addition, Aquinas makes it pretty clear that even with grace, a person may not attain their ultimate end. He writes that there are “many impediments” to man’s ability to achieve his ultimate end, including “the weakness of his reason”, “the passions of his sensory nature”, “by the feelings whereby he is attracted to sensible and lower things”, and so on (SCG 3.147.7). Since all of these “impediments” remain, even in the presence of grace, a person may still freely choose to reject God altogether, which means that the presence of grace is not sufficient to achieve man’s ultimate end, even though it is necessary to do so.

One concern that I have with this account is it seems that not everyone is infused with grace, but rather some people receive it from God, and others do not. After all, Aquinas writes that “although one may neither merit in advance nor call forth divine grace by a movement of his free choice, he is able to prevent himself from receiving this grace” and that “those alone are deprived of grace who offer an obstacle within themselves to grace” (SCG 3.159.2). This implies that some people have grace and other people lack grace. Now, this leads to an interesting problem, because it means that one can (a) receive grace, and then be deprived of it, and (b) obstruct the reception of grace altogether.

dguller said...

With regards to (a), it would seem that after receiving grace, someone acted in a sufficiently sinful fashion to warrant the removal of grace. But God could have intervened via “external guardianship, whereby the occasions of sinning are taken away from man by divine providence and whereby provocations to sin are suppressed” (SCG 3.162.8), which may have prevented the sinful behavior itself, thus precluding the need to remove grace. And certainly, God has intervened in such a way in the past to support certain pre-selected individuals, but that seems to give those pre-selected individuals an unfair advantage over others, and then the non-pre-selected individuals subsequently pay an eternal penalty that is partly due to the absence of divine support. It would be like comparing material success between the offspring of a wealthy family and the offspring of a family in poverty, and then punishing the latter for not achieving what the former achieved. Ultimately, it seems that God arbitrarily provides supernatural support, over and above grace, to some irrespective of their merit, and denies it to others solely based upon their merit, and then judges the two groups on the same standard. Even Aquinas writes that “there is no reason to ask why He converts the former and not the latter” (SCG 3.161.2).

With regards to (b), prior to the reception of grace, a person lives in a state of sinful disobedience, and this state certainly does not preclude the reception of grace. Furthermore, in that state of sinful disobedience, one must have acted in a sinful fashion, and thus neither the state nor the actions is relevant to the infusion of grace, which means that entire affair is left to the choice of God, completely independently of human worth. Once again, the matter seems to be completely arbitrary, which would be fine, except that those who are arbitrarily given advantages end up receiving further rewards and blessings, whereas those who are denied said advantages end up being severely punished. And worse of all, “the aforementioned differentiation of men must be ordered by God from eternity” (SCG 3.163.1).

Anonymous said...

dguller --

God offers grace to all people, but we can and do sometimes choose to refuse the gift.

dguller said...

Anonymous:

God offers grace to all people, but we can and do sometimes choose to refuse the gift.

But to “refuse the gift”, one would have to first recognize the gift. If one unknowingly turned away from a gift, because one never knew that it was a gift to begin with, then how can they be blamed, especially if there were a number of factors and elements that distorted one’s ability to recognize the gift at all, even if it was staring one in the face?

dguller said...

Another question.

When Aquinas writes that “there is no reason to ask why He converts the former and not the latter” (SCG 3.161.2), then is that because (a) there is no reason, or (b) there is a reason, but it is beyond our ability to know it. It seems that (b) must be true, because he writes that the determination regarding which people are granted grace and support, and which are not, “this depends on His will alone” (SCG 3.161.2). And since his will is his intellect, there must be a reason underlying his determination, even if it is fundamentally inscrutable from our finite and limited understanding. But this divine reason itself has nothing to do with the human beings involved, because their actions are irrelevant to God’s determination, and thus the matter lies exclusively with God himself. So, from eternity, he pre-determined which people would receive his blessing and support, and which people would be denied it, even though the former would receive a substantial advantage over the latter in terms of obedience to his will, and that advantage was completely unearned by them. Once again, the entire affair seems arbitrary and cruel, especially given the stakes involved. It would have been far more fair to grant everyone grace, and then leave it to them to do with grace what they will. That would level the playing field, and make it significantly more fair. To arbitrarily aid one group and not another is not just by any means.

Glenn said...

dguller,

It would have been far more fair to grant everyone grace, and then leave it to them to do with grace what they will.

On your account:

If not everyone is granted grace, then that is "unfair".

But if everyone is granted grace, then that is "coercion" (because everyone's space of possible choices is curtailed by virtue of no one being able to choose to not be granted grace).

Why dost thou torture thyself?

dguller said...

Glenn:

If not everyone is granted grace, then that is "unfair".

Yes, and even if everyone is granted grace, then if everyone is not granted “external guardianship” (SCG 3.162.8), then that is unfair, especially if the divine decision regarding who receives grace and/or guardianship is not justified by anything that the potential or actual recipients have warranted. In other words, if

(a) there is nothing about person A that justifies A’s receiving grace and/or guardianship
(b) there is nothing about person B that justifies B’s receiving grace and/or guardianship
(c) A receives grace and/or guardianship
(d) B does not receive grace and/or guardianship

then (a) to (d) is manifestly unfair.

But if everyone is granted grace, then that is "coercion" (because everyone's space of possible choices is curtailed by virtue of no one being able to choose to not be granted grace).

No, I acknowledged that grace actually opens up a possibility that was previously closed, and thus is not actually coercion.

Glenn said...

dguller,

>> But if everyone is granted grace, then that is "coercion" (because everyone's space of possible choices is curtailed by virtue of no one being able to choose to not be granted grace).

> No, I acknowledged that grace actually opens up a possibility that was previously closed, and thus is not actually coercion.


>> If not everyone is granted grace, then that is "unfair".

> Yes, and even if everyone is granted grace, then if everyone is not granted “external guardianship” (SCG 3.162.8), then that is unfair,


By hook or by crook...

Glenn said...

dguller,

if

(a) there is nothing about person A that justifies A’s receiving grace and/or guardianship
(b) there is nothing about person B that justifies B’s receiving grace and/or guardianship
(c) A receives grace and/or guardianship
(d) B does not receive grace and/or guardianship

then (a) to (d) is manifestly unfair.


This is to say, "If (a), (b), (c) and (d), then (a) to (d) is manifestly unfair."

However, this doesn't seem to make much sense as it stands, and it might be better to recast it as follows:

1. If (a), (b), (c) and (d), then (a) to (d) is manifestly unfair.
2. (a), (b), (c) and (d).
3. Therefore, (a) to (d) is manifestly unfair.

But {(a), (b), (c) and (d)} is a substition instance for X in the following argument:

1. If X, then X is manifestly unfair.
2. X.
3. Therefore, X is manifestly unfair.

And {(a), (b), (c) and (d)} isn't necessarily the only possible substitution instance for X in that argument.

For example, another substitution instance for X in that argument might be "dguller exists".

In this case, the argument would read as follows:

1. If dguller exists, then dguller is manifestly unfair.
2. dguller exists.
3. Therefore, dguller is manifestly unfair.

See how that works?

Glenn said...

dguller,

if everyone is not granted “external guardianship” (SCG 3.162.8), then that is unfair

The role meant to be played by the parenthetical reference in this seems unclear.

It is true that SCG 3.162.8 does mention "external guardianship", but it is also true that SCG 3,162.8 says nothing which may be taken as an indication that not everyone is granted "external guardianship".

SCG 3,162.8 does mention that the help of that "external guardianship" might be taken away for some under certain circumstances, true.

However, that cannot be taken away which one does not have.

And to take away the help of "external guardianship" is not to take away the "external guardianship" itself.